The following is the transcript of an interview conducted with Chris HolmesParker
1. Give a brief description of your research:
I am currently working towards a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. My research focus is in dynamics and controls and I am specializing in autonomous agents and multiagent systems. My research is aimed at developing algorithms capable of achieving coordination and team formation in collaborative networks of autonomous agents and distributed sensors with severe communication restrictions.
I am interested in the advancement of coordination, communication, and navigation in distributed networked of autonomous devices including satellite clusters, UAV's and robots. My current research focuses on large scale coordination and team formation in autonomous systems, which can be applied to satellite swarms, sensor networks, UAV's and robots.
As an undergraduate, I earned an Honors Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Physics (University Honors College) at Oregon State University. I worked as a research assistant in the Keszler Power group during my freshman and sophomore years where I worked on developing photovoltaic semiconductor materials applicable for use in a multifunction solar cell. My junior year I was awarded an NSF internship at Princeton University. During the internship I worked on developing low temperature thermoelectric materials and superconductors with Professor Robert Cava and performed theoretical band structure calculations in an attempt to predict material properties with Professor Claudia Felser of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.
Satellite coordination and communication are also of great interest to me. I founded the picosatellite project at Oregon State University, a multidisciplinary group aimed at launching miniature satellites. The group has worked with The Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium and several US Universities and has launched high altitude balloon experiments. Future launches of high altitude balloon experiments are scheduled, a satellite ground station for picosatellites is being constructed at Oregon State University, on the roof of Weniger Hall. The group hopes to launch its first CubeSat by June 2013.
2. What do you like about research?
I enjoy solving problems, not just crossword puzzles and Rubik's cubes, but probing questions that are at the forefront of modern technological advancements. Research provides me with a setting in which I constantly get to solve new and challenging problems. Perhaps my favorite thing about research is that you're never done, there will always be a new problem to solve.
3. What are your struggles with research and what have you done (if anything) to overcome these struggles?
The hardest obstacle that I have had to overcome with research has been doubting my capabilities. Each time I come across a new research opportunity that is more complex or more advance than the last one, I constantly wonder if I am able to perform adequately. It has been my experience that if you put yourself in the situation, you'll always rise to the occasion.
4. Did you work closely with a mentor? If so, what are the benefits you have gained from this kind of relationship?
Yes! I cannot stress the importance of having mentors throughout your college years enough!!! I have had several, each has led me through a different part of my college journey. My freshman year, I met Dr. Richard Nafshun, who was a great mentor, he pushed me to achieve my maximum potential my freshman year, which I did. I ended up taking a graduate level course in solid state chemistry, being a teaching assistant for a class in which I was concurrently enrolled and obtaining a summer internship position as a research assistant. Dr. Nafshun introduced me to Professor Doug Keszler. Professor Keszler provided me with a paid undergraduate research assistantship and taught me a lot about being a researcher. It was Dr. Keszler who sent me to Princeton University on an NSF internship, where I was offered a full ride to graduate school. Professor William Hetherington helped me found a couple student organizations on campus and write grant proposals that netted almost $30,000.00 in funding and equipment for our projects. During my junior and senior years, I also made numerous contacts with people in industry and at other Universities.
It would take hundreds of pages to detail all of the benefits from working with these mentors throughout my undergraduate tenure. All of these mentors and gave me support, answered my questions, and provided me with letters of recommendations for internships, fellowships, scholarships, and graduate school.
5. What are the benefits, in your opinion, of participating in undergraduate research?
Undergraduate research provides students with a research advisor who will be a great mentor throughout their time as undergraduates. It will prepare a student for research within their chosen field, or let them know that they may want to pursue a different course of action. Research experience as an undergraduate also helps you stand out in the selection process for graduate school and serves as a solid résumé builder.
6. What advice would you give other undergraduates seeking research or preparing to participate in research for the first time?
I would tell anyone who is even remotely interested in undergraduate research to get involved as soon as they can. The more positions you apply for, the higher the odds of getting accepted and earning a position. Even an unpaid research assistantship is a good place to start, it will provide you with experience and your research advisor with a chance to see you before they decide to hire you.
Advice on obtaining a research position:
Search through the web pages of all the professors in your given field or research area at your college or university. The department web pages faculty links are usually a good place to start. Read up on each professors research, find the few that you find most interesting and then do enough background research on the topics that you can talk to them competently about the fundamentals of their research project. Then approach them and talk to them about your interest in their project and ask if they have any positions available. It is a lot easier than most students think it would be and it works.
7. Any other thoughts?
I have had countless friends and students come up to me over the last four years and wonder what the number one factor is that has contributed to my success. I can easily say that it has been getting involved with undergraduate research and developing relationships with my professors. My number one piece of advice for anyone who wants to get ahead is to start getting to know your professors and get involved with a research project today! Don't wait!!!