I know what you’re wondering: no, I’m not a science major.
I’m actually an architecture major, which, in Penn, isn’t even in the School of Engineering. The architecture program at Penn is very much design-intensive, so I was pleasantly surprised when I came across a research opportunity in a project titled “Design and fabrication of ultra-lightweight structural systems.” I was initially drawn to this project because I believe developing a strong but lightweight infrastructure is key to building safe houses in earthquake-prone countries, namely my home country Indonesia.
Even though the whole program spans 10 weeks, two short weeks in, I’ve already had some pretty incredible experiences. I’ve been trusted with the responsibility of trimming tiny intricate bits and piecing together an elaborate 400some-piece model which will eventually rise to a massive height of over three feet tall, and that’s only the beginning of it!
Obviously, helping to move research in the field one step further is the ultimate motivation for joining a research project, but here are several others that I think are noteworthy.
1. The faculty members are really cool
This is admittedly the best part about my research experience. Being able to work hand-in-hand with experts in the field is really inspiring, especially when these experts are teachers who love sharing knowledge. Everyone I’ve met has been very approachable, warmly sharing their experience in academics and in life. One of my favorite parts of my day is sitting together with the whole lab for lunch and talking about where we each come from, or how our weekend went, or the most random topics like how terrible domestic flights are.
2. Insight into the research world
Seeing the research process from up close opens up a perspective that I’d never had before and helped me consider research as a future career path. Truth be told, I didn’t even know that research in the field of architecture was a thing before this experience. Although I may or may not continue down this path in the future, it certainly helps to know what this particular career demands and whether or not those demands line with my interests.
3. Learning skills that are relevant to class
As an architecture major working on an architecture research project, it’s no surprise that I’m gaining a lot of skills fast. Model-making is training me to think about how to fabricate an idea into something palpable that an audience can understand. I will also working with a 3D-software, Rhino, that I would have to learn next semester in my studio class. By getting a head start, I will have an advantage in class. On top of that, I have a beautiful piece of work to add to my portfolio.
4. And also skills that are not-so relevant to class
Like any job, research has taught me soft skills like how to address my boss and how to manage my time. It even forced me to learn how to meal-prep (which is amazing by the way). Most valuable of all is how research taught me to listen and ask questions. When you’re working in an environment where people are at the frontlines of technology and are continuing to push it, it’s only natural that the conversations you hear make no sense to you. But like I said, these frontliners are enthusiasts who take joy in answering questions, even the simplest ones. Research nurtures my inquisitive nature and I’ve, for example, learnt more about concrete in the past two days than I have in all the rest of my concrete-treading life.
Of course, I only scratched the surface to my own experience, and everyone’s experiences are different. But I can assure you that if you do try research, you’ll have so much to take away.
(If these reasons are not enough to motivate you to at least give research a second thought, check back with me in a week and I’ll send you a selfie with my completed model!)
The Lab that I am working with is Polyhedral Structures Lab. PSL focuses on bridging architecture and structural design to push the boundaries of research in architectural technology. Check out what they do at https://psl.design.upenn.edu.
PURM, or Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship, is an annual program that supports freshman and sophomore undergraduate students in summer research collaborations with faculty. Here’s their website for the current Summer 2018 enrollment: https://www.curf.upenn.edu/content/penn-undergraduate-research-mentoring-program.