Friday, July 31, 2009

What I learned.

Throughout this summer my perspective on research and my future in general has been changed by my fellowship. At the beginning of my fellowship I was very concerned about my ability to contribute to my research group. Furthermore, I was worried that what I would be working with would be something I may not find interesting. These concerns however passed very quickly as I started my fellowship. As I worked on the various projects related to my research group APRIL, I began to build a strong confidence in myself and my work.

My first project was developing firmware for an electronics board so that it could support a type of electronic communication. My previous experience never came close to dealing with what I was presented with. Furthermore, my professor was very insistent on having me rely on myself to learn everything on my own. It was a surprise that my professor had more confidence in my abilities than I had. He was right though, and through a lot of work and research I was able to carry out my tasks and my contributions allowed other team members to advance their own projects with my work. It's an amazing feeling seeing others use and appreciate what you have contributed to the group.

If there's one thing I don't like about my work it is debugging. Debugging is required in order to test and fix any issues you have after you program the device. A car mechanic who rebuilds an engine has to test and find any issues that may exist at the end. The same goes for anyone who works with electronics. After programming you have to find all the bugs that exist, and sometimes those bugs are so obscure that it takes brute force methods to fix it. With my first project I had to use an oscilloscope and manually read the signals, diagnose what they meant, and find the issue. In the end the problem was an obscure and undocumented issue where doing one command before another led to an issue with the configuration.

This fellowship has really built both my confidence in my abilities and my ability to work with others while still retaining an independence that keeps me from needlessly relying on others. Most of what I do I do on my own, and I have learned only to ask questions when I can't find the answers on my own. This has built my skills in research and problem solving. I know now that when I have a problem, I go thoroughly through the documentation and learn as much about the problem as possible. This however doesn't mean that I can't rely on the experience of others. With my first project I did eventually ask my professor a question concerning it, and he gave a small hint that in the end made a big difference.

I feel that I have accomplished a lot during my fellowship. The skills I have learned are the same skills that exist on many job postings for my career. It is a good feeling to know that many of the problems I will face as an engineer will be things I already have direct applicable experience with. I do not feel that my learning experience will end with my fellowship, and I am now committed to staying with my research group long after my fellowship is over.

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