1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
For my STEP Signature Project I did undergraduate research in the field of nuclear engineering investigating a method of measuring thermal conductivity. I used a technique known as the Four-Point Probe to measure the electrical resistivity of a material which can then be used to calculate the thermal conductivity. The main activities of the project were literature review, equipment procurement, design and fabrication of testing apparatus, conducting experiments, analyzing data, and writing a thesis.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Going into this STEP Signature Project I thought I might be interested in doing research, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like or if I would actual like it. I was also in the process of considering and applying to grad schools and determining my aptitude for research was an important part of the decision. What I learned from my experience was that I enjoyed doing research, but not nearly as much as I hoped I would. Before my STEP Signature Project I assumed I would prefer a research oriented career. That assumption changed and I now think a career in industry or research could be equally rewarding.
3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
The main activities that led to the change discussed in question 2 was actually doing the research, literally conducting the experiments and collecting data. I learned how frustrating it can be. When erroneous data came in there was a large number of potential causes (from something as simple as a loose wire to something as fundamental as not modeling the physical system correctly) with no indication as to the issue.
I spent so much time working on things that only indirectly contributed to the research I was trying to do, such as several weeks just to get the equipment working properly. It was all too easy to feel I had wasted a week not making progress because I explored an avenue that proved uninformative, which is just a part of doing research
It was also hard to feel the work I was doing was important and mattered. Research is extremely specialized at this point and much of it is neither glamorous nor ground breaking. Technically all research is by definition original and expanding human understanding, but I’d rather put that knowledge to practical use. These experiences changed my perception about doing research.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
As a direct result of doing undergraduate research I decided not to pursue a PhD in grad school. Getting a PhD would both involve 4 or so years of research but would also be for a research focused career. Before my STEP Signature Project I thought that would interest me but I am now less certain. Instead I plan to get a masters with research distinction for a career in industry with a more applied research focus. Without going through the experience of my STEP Project I would be going into grad school with a much less clear understanding of what I want to do professionally.