My Experience As A 2011 SMART Scholar
This past summer I was a SMART scholar. I did research within the Mathematics Department under Dr. Laura Miller. The previous summer, before my freshmen year, I was able to be a DEB Scholar. In this program you are mentored by a SMART scholar, a year ahead of you, and shadow and participate in undergraduate research. The purpose of the program is to encourage minority students to get engaged and exposed to research at the undergraduate level here at UNC. Participating in the DEBS program, I was very familiar with the SMART program which I applied to at the end of my freshmen year. Although, I enjoyed my research experience as a DEB scholar I wanted to do research in a different field. During my freshmen year I learned more about mathematical research from some of my professors. I was intrigued because I was a math major and I had not heard research in mathematics before.
After doing some research on UNC professors and their projects, I was able to get in contact with Dr. Miller and expressed interest in her lab group. She was very welcoming and allowed me to work on a project during the summer while I was being funded through the SMART program. The project that I worked on deals with the fluid dynamics and modeling of tubular hearts. This grasped by attention because embryo hearts begin as having a tubular shape without chambers and valves. Without these aspects, the heart is still able to pump fluid. I am also on the pre-med track so I was very excited to find something that encompassed two subjects that I was very passionate about. During the summer I worked with a species called sea squirts that have tubular hearts. I studied this species through videos. I took observations and did analysis to determine amplitudes and pulse frequencies. I have continued this year with the research. We are now doing more computer analysis of simulations of tubular hearts.
Dr. Miller is an excellent faculty mentor. She provides a stress free and open environment for her students. She has a good balance of direction and openness to new ideas. Lab group meetings enhance the research experience because you can collaborate on one another’s projects providing tips and exploring solutions to problems. I feel really lucky to be part of such a relaxing research environment.
My favorite part about the SMART program was leading my own research assignment. I had responsibility and pride for my work. I also enjoyed sharing this project and my experiences with research with my DEBS mentee. I did not realize how much I had known and gained from my first year as an undergraduate that I was able to share with my DEBS mentee.
I did not run into many problems with my research since I was led by my faculty mentor with different assignments. I did have flexibility to figure out how to go about a specific task and designing my own procedure. This did have some frustrations that come with trial and error. I kept a positive attitude and wasn’t afraid to ask for help; this eased these frustrations.
I encourage anyone who is the least bit interested in research to take a leap and look what is out there. UNC is full of professors conducting research in almost every discipline. If you express interest and are persistent, research opportunities will come and can be immersed in all that UNC has to offer. Also if you would like to contact UNC students who have had experiences with undergraduate research contact an OUR ambassador on the OUR site.