I believe research is the best way to learn things. It is one
thing to learn established material, concepts and skills within a
particular discipline. It is entirely another to learn how to
formulate interesting questions, develop plans for answering those
questions, execute those plans, analize what was learned in the
process, and communicate your findings. When you conduct
research, you're exploring questions for which you may not be sure
answers even exist. For these and other
reasons, research can be daunting but also very exciting and rewarding.
Doing research as an undergraduate is one of the unique opportunities
that you have as a Westmont student.
If you check around, you will find that undergrads at research universities
rarely get to work with faculty members on original research.
To publish a paper with a professor is even more unusual.
Because I value research so highly as a part of your education, I am
willing to invest considerable amounts of my time in working with
you. However, because I am investing considerable time training
you in research, I naturally want you to bear fruit of some kind.
Thus, I expect certain things from you before we
begin and as we proceed.
I have created this page as a way of clarifying my expectations.
However, view these as general guidelines and not as hard and fast rules.
Before we begin a research project together:
- You should prepare a well-thought proposal describing
what you want to accomplish during your research effort and why.
You might consider working with me
on one of my interests,
but it is also perfectly acceptable for you to propose your own project
(and I encourage you to do so -- even if I do not end up agreeing to work with you on it).
- You should make a commitment to follow through on the research --
writing up results, revising, etc.,
even if this means some effort after the project is officially over.
This is especially important when you are a co-author on a paper submitted for publication.
During a basic semester research project:
- For a two-unit semester long research project,
you should anticipate meeting with me for one hour every week and spending
six to eight hours per week outside of those meetings on the research.
The actual amount of time you spend will depend on the number of units
for which you register.
- The nature of your work will be varied and unpredictable.
You'll use the library and web at times,
write programs and run experiments at other times,
and certainly write descriptions of work and results.
Naturally, your topic will strongly influence the relative distribution among these activities.
- During our weekly meetings together,
we will establish milestones for the coming week.
Your timeliness and thoroughness in completing these agreed-upon units of work
will serve as the basis for your grade;
but much more importantly,
they will strongly influence the likelihood of the project's success.
- Throughout your work on a research project,
your thinking and behavior should be characterized by exploration.
First, you should explore the space of research questions we are asking.
That is, we may start with one or several overarching questions,
but these are only starting points and guiding themes.
Every question suggests several others and you should be practicing asking those.
You'll also need to explore responses to those questions,
both the ones we ask together and the ones you generate on your own.
In this respect, you need to be willing to try things that may fail;
that is how we learn best.
Finally, through reflection you need to explore what you learned from your responses to the questions.
Do the results lay to rest one or more of the previous questions?
Do the responses suggest yet other questions?
Stir and repeat.
There are times when funding is available
-- either through a Westmont research fellowship or from external sources --
to support paid student participation in research.
This typically takes the form of summer research
which has traditionally been supported by ten weeks of stipend,
plus free housing in the Ocean View apartments.
When such funding is available,
I expect more of a commitment on the part of students receiving such support.
In addition to what is expected before we begin as described above:
- You should agree to complete two semesters of (unpaid) research;
two units during the Spring semester immediately prior to the paid summer work
and two or more units of during the Fall semester immediately following the summer research.
I have similar expectations for these two semesters
as for a basic semester research project.
- You should already be thinking about graduate school.
For many students, graduate school is not even on their radar.
At Westmont, we expect that all students will come to understand their options
with respect to graduate school and that many will indeed choose that path.
Of course, in computer science,
students must balance the significant opportunities and lucrative incentives
to immediately start working at an existing company or a startup.
I would be happy to discuss these matters with you.
If you are interested in working with me on summer research under the above conditions,
you should submit your proposal and meet with me as early as possible.
The need to register for Spring research units
suggests that you contact me before the end of the calendar year.
If we agree on a project, then you should sign up for research units during the Spring semester.
By the end of Spring Recess,
I will select summer research assistants from among those doing research for credit.
After the summer, you will register for additional units to continue the research
and write submission(s) for publication.