2013 CIAN Research Experience for Undergraduates

2013 REU Program Report

The 2013 Integrated Optics for Undergraduates (IOU) REU funded 4 participants at 3 CIAN partner institutions including: Columbia, University of Arizona, and UCSD.  All 4 participants completed the post-program survey.

Mentor information:

 When asked who was most responsible for mentoring the participants’ research over the summer, 75% of respondents (3 participants) indicated that a graduate student was most responsible, and 25% (1 participant) said a faculty member was their primary mentor.

Following Internship Completion:
When questioned in the survey, all participants were able to describe the purposes of their research in great detail, using technical language specific to the field of Optics.  This suggests that a significant knowledge base was established as a result of their REU.  As indicated in the graph below, general attitudes toward the REU program were encouraging, with 93% of all responses reflecting positive ratings (see Figure A below).  Specifically, 100% (4) Agreed or Strongly Agreed that their mentor was helpful and accessible, and that they “could easily get help when [they] needed it.” Additionally, 100% Agreed or Strongly Agreed that the pace of the research was realistic, and that they understood the real world applications of the research. The following items received 75% ratings of agreement:

  • Expectations for results were realistic.
  • I felt like a valuable team member.
  • The guidance I received from faculty was appropriate.
REU report figure A

Figure A

Next, when asked concerning potential deficiencies in the REU program, very few responses reflected a need for more materials, assistance, or training. As shown in Figure B, 100% said that there was enough instruction on article reviews and 75% of the IOU students were satisfied with the following categories:

  • Training in lab techniques
  • Training in lab safety
  • Group meetings
  • Clearly defined goals and/or timeline
  • Social events

The only aspects of the program that may need improvement, according to the responses above, are “Opportunities to work with other lab members,” and “Guidance from my mentor or instructors.” In general, the ratings indicate that excellent training was provided to the REU students, leading t

REU report figure B

Figure B

o a highly successful experience.
The next section asked students to rate their confidence in specific research-related activities, and following the IOU program, only 22% of the 40 responses in the item matrix were “Somewhat confident” responses (See Figure D). This is much less than what was seen on the Pre- IOU program survey, where 38% of the total responses were “Somewhat confident” or “Not confident at all” (See Figure C).

REU Report figure C

Figure C: Pre-Program Confidence

Post-Program Confidence

Figure D: Post-Program Confidence

On the post-program survey, there was a 50% increase in the number of Very Confident responses. Also, before the REU experience, only two skills had 100% Confident or Very Confident responses, compared to four skills afterwards. Specifically, 100% of respondents were either Confident or Very Confident in their ability to engage in the following tasks after the IOU program:

  • Plan Experiments
  • Critically read primary journal articles
  • Connect new data to old
  • Communicate ideas to team members

In addition, 75% said that they were Confident or Very Confident with regards to “Identifying relevant questions for inquiry,” “Interpreting research results,” “Organizing information,” and “Conducting literature searches.” Upon completing the REU program, student ratings indicate only two skills that still show potential for improvement, which were “Keeping a lab notebook” and “Integrating relevant published data into your research project.” Overall, students were much more confident in their abilities after the REU experience.

Next, we will compare the Pre and Post program agreement ratings of IOU participants regarding the following statements:

  • I think of myself as an engineer.
  • I am confident in my ability to work in a research lab.
  • I am going to pursue graduate studies in engineering research.
  • I am confident about my ability to access experts in the engineering field.
  • I think that it is important to make oral presentations about my scientific investigation.

Surprisingly, attitudes regarding the above statements did not change significantly after students completed their summer program (See Figures E and F for complete results). Both before and after the program, there were six responses of Neither agree nor Disagree among the various items, and there were only 2 more Strongly Agree responses on the post survey than on the pre survey.  That being said, there were a couple important changes in response patterns. First, regarding the statement, “I am going to pursue graduate studies in engineering research,” 75% selected Strongly Agree on the post survey, compared to only 25% on the pre survey. This indicates that students were more eager to pursue graduate school after having worked in research labs with graduate students over the summer. Second, after completing the internship, two individuals Strongly Agreed that they see themselves as engineers compared to only one who Strongly Agreed before the summer research experience. Also, after the REU program 50% (2 students) Agreed or Strongly Agreed about their confidence in accessing experts in their field, compared to only 25% before the program.

Pre-Program

Figure E: Pre-Program Self-Perception

Post-Program

Figure F: Post-Program Self-Perception

Prior to beginning the REU program, the majority of participants (3) felt they had little knowledge regarding photonics and optics:

No knowledge at all:                                       0% (0)
Little Knowledge:                                             75% (3)
Moderate degree of knowledge:                  25% (1)
Very knowledgeable:                                     0% (0)

After the REU program, the majority of participants felt they had a moderate degree of knowledge regarding photonics and optics:

No knowledge at all:                                       0% (0)
Small degree of Knowledge:                       25% (1)
Moderate degree of knowledge:             75% (3)
Very Knowledgeable:                                    0% (0)

This increase in optics knowledge suggests that the REU program was an effective, educational experience for the majority of participants.

Pre-Post Survey Comparison of Future Plans

When asked before their internships, students indicated the following concerning the highest degree they hoped to earn:

B.A./B.S.                                                              0% (0)
M.A./M.S.                                                           25% (1)
Ph.D.                                                                     75% (3)

After their summer internships, students’ academic goals differed only slightly, as shown below:

B.A./B.S.                                                              0% (0)
M.A./M.S.                                                           0% (0)
Ph.D.                                                                     100% (4)

When asked what sector they would most like to work in, participant views were exactly the same as before their REU experience, with Academia being the most preferred work setting (4 out of 4 participants indicated they were “Somewhat Interested” or “Very Interested” in Academia as a workplace both before and after the REU program).

REU Participant Satisfaction

Overall, 75% of REU participants said that the research internship met their expectations and 100% rated the experience as Very Good or Excellent. Also, 100% agreed that the experience has greatly strengthened their graduate application.  When asked what was most beneficial about their summer research experience, the following responses were given:

  • The people I met who are now friends and future colleges.
  • Experience with networks
  • Experiencing the graduate research environment and interacting with graduate students who made graduate school seem interesting and promising.
  • Being exposed to a field I knew very little about, and finishing with more knowledge and experience in an actual lab.

The following list includes the challenges faced by participants:

  • The amount of debugging necessary in the code for the project.
  • I didn’t know much about what I was doing.
  • Understanding previous optics research and applying it to my project.
  • The pressure of presenting and feeling like my work was not adequate, even though it was well done.

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