I'm a freshman computer engineering major doing a summer research internship at a large public metropolitan university . My internship is a bit unusual. My internship is based in a Latino Studies Research Institute, and my research for the summer concerns using machine learning methods to statistically analyze possible correlations between race and socioeconomic status in certain Latino groups. This is my first time conducting research, and I'm a bit lost.

For example, my research advisor told me I'm looking into a new area of (which surprised me heavily) since nobody has ever approached that area in the way that I'm before. Basically, my research won't be heavily conclusive (I'm working with only a few hundred data-points, a threadbare amount). I intend for my paper to at least get some interest in using machine learning for social science/ethnic studies.

Also, I'm unsupervised. I basically come in everyday and look for machine learning algorithms to better fit my data, along with more information for the qualitative aspects of my soon to be report. And for the most part, besides a research associate who is a statistician, I'm left to do the grunt work of looking up all the programming and statistical techniques for my project. Also, the professor that I was recommended to talk to isn't in the same field as me ( he's in Environmental Engineering ), so I don't know what to do from there.

So, I would like to know -

As a undergrad researcher whos conducting research in a field that is not my major, what is expected of me? I'm a Computer Engineering major in a Sociological/Ethnic Studies Research Institute.

How can I bring up issues to my adviser? Sometimes it feels like I'm being left out to do my own research. Every other intern seems to have somebody who our research adviser brought in to help them out specifically - e.g a intern doing Latin music has a musicology grad student to advise them , a intern doing migration patterns in Latin America has a sociology research associate to advise them, etc.

What should I do to stay with the institute? I really like what they are doing, and they seem to like the research that I'm doing, and do tend to hire people that are beneficial to them after they graduate college. SO how can I make sure to not only keep that up, but to possibly be employed by them post-grad?

Also, what should I be doing in my research in order to complete it successfully?

1 Answer 1


If you're a freshman doing research in your first year, and your professor has mostly left you to your own devices, then I think it's reasonable to assume that:

  1. The main benefits of this research will be the experience you gain
  2. There is a high chance that what you are doing will not result in publishable work, and that is okay

The most important thing is to communicate with your advisor. If you are unsure of what to do, then relay that to your advisor.

They will not look down on you for asking for direction or expressing confusion, and if they do, it is their fault for hiring a freshman to work in a brand new research area. Helping you out in areas like this is precisely why you have an advisor.

what is expected of me

That you do what you're told to do, communicate when you're confused, and when they give you freedom, give it your best effort.

Do not flounder for weeks on end without asking for help!

How can I bring up issues to my adviser?

I like email, because it lets you gather your thoughts and think about what you're saying. Your professor will likely either respond by email, and either set up a meeting, or give you some advice for email.

Tell them you're unclear on what exactly how to do, and you'd like to ask if they have specific expectations, or if you're free to try things on your own.

Be honest, but be brief. Professors are busy, and if you get to the point, they will take it much better than if you waste their time dancing around what you're trying to say.

How do I stay with the institute

Honestly, in my experience, starting with a group is the easiest way to stay with them. Work hard, communicate well. If they see potential in you, they will likely want to keep you.

And, be honest! If you like working there, say it. Professors like students they know and trust when recruiting for post-grad studies, and often your undergrad projects can lead into your graduate work.

what should I be doing in my research in order to complete it successfully?

This is a very complicated question. Communicating will help. Try to manage risk: try out ideas on a small scale before you devote your time to them. And, you will read a lot. Knowing what has already been done will guide what you do, as well as ensuring you're not accidentally duplicating someone's research.

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