This is where I will be documenting my DREU experience on a weekly basis!
Table of Contents
Week 1Back to top
My first week in Seattle was a success! After lots of cramming and last minute packing, I made it to Seattle, Washington, to start my DREU program at the University of Washington. Before my program even began, I had been emailing my mentor, Dr. Jennifer Mankoff, about my arrival and who to meet and when. Since she had to leave town on an emergency, I was greeted by one of her Ph.D. students when I arrived, and he helped me get acquainted to the building I will be working in all summer, and also to make sure I had access to the lab, building, and Wi-Fi.
After getting everything set up on Monday, I had a Skype call with Dr. Mankoff and we planned out a game plan for my first few days since I would not be meeting her until later. She sent me some papers to read and put me in contact with someone else in the lab who I would be working with on my project. I met her the next day, and we really hit it off, not to mention we started working on our project! We will be studying the relationship between trauma and substance abuse, more specifically cannabis use, to create a model using machine learning and other data analysis tools to predict when people will use cannabis based on traumatic events in their lives. The data is based on data collected during previous studies with different aims.
On Wednesday, I went to a DUB Meet and Greet with other REU and undergraduate UW student researchers. DUB stands for "Design. Use. Build," and is a subgroup in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering. I met a bunch of faculty, Ph.D. students (and candidates), and other REU students from all over the country. It felt good to know that there is a group supporting us undergraduates and that we are not alone in learning how to do research, whether or not it be our first time. It also felt really good to hear from a panel of Ph.D students at UW who told us what they wish they knew the first time they did research. It made me feel much more comfortable not knowing everything, and knowing that it is okay to "feel dumb." I plan on having lunch with people from this event throughout my DREU program, so I am looking forward to that!
Since this is my first time doing research in computer science, I was pretty overwhelmed as I began to learn what my project was, and especially after seeing the magnitude of the project, being that there is so much data. Nevertheless, I am really excited to see where this project takes us and to learn as much as I can during the process. Also, once I met Dr. Mankoff, things became a bit clearer, and I met the rest of the group working on the project. I am very excited to see where the rest of thus summer takes me!
Side note: the UW campus is so big and beautiful! This is a much different arena for me, coming from a small, Jesuit school, nestled in the heart of the Silicon Valley. I better get used to biking around campus and Seattle in general!
Week 2Back to top
After my second week at UW, I feel much more knowledgeable about the project I will be working on for the next 8 weeks, and also about living here in Seattle! For the project this week, I met with several different groups; one meeting with the lab group, one with the project group, and one with a PhD student and some other students who will be helping with the preliminary tasks for the project––data cleaning. After all these meetings, I got a much better sense of what I had to do and what steps I needed to take right now to get there.
This week I spent most of my time reading and understanding what a lot of existing code is doing, since the code we will be writing will be based on what has already been done in a past paper. It took me a while to understand the code since there is an abundance of data, therefore a lot of code in Python and JSON that starts off with data cleaning in the processing pipeline. I have never worked with JSON before, nor with Python in this capacity of data processing and analytics, but I am learning fast. All the people I have met who are working on this project are so encouraging and helpful. I have heard many people say to not be afraid to ask “dumb” questions, and to not be afraid to sound “dumb”. The reality is, now that I have learned, is that there is no such thing as a dumb question, and that sounding “dumb” just means you are learning. No one here is dumb, that’s for sure!
I also had lunch with some REU students and a UW graduate student in CSE that was organized by DUB, and it was really cool to hear about their projects and experiences at their institutions. I hope to participate in more events like this, and to continue meet new people! Also this week, I had dinner with a friend from high school that actually goes to UW and who happened to be here over this summer! It’s definitely a small world, and it was cool to catch up. Over the weekend, I saw Wicked in downtown, and that was definitely the highlight of the week.
I am glad that I am finding more ways to explore the city and to also get more engaged with my work as I learn and apply my newfound skills to the project.
Week 3Back to top
My third week was very productive and eventful! The Friday before this week, I had a meeting with my group to get started on data cleaning, so this week we actually started working on it. The Ph.D. student in charge of organizing our tasks gave us very detailed instructions and set us up to start working on it, so I spent most of the week getting through my assigned tasks. We had a long list of files to create, with lots of references to double and triple check against to make sure everything was in order. At first, I had a lot of questions as to how to organize the code, where to get the references, and how to document the whole process, but the Ph.D. student answered all my questions and I was able to move through the tasks fairly quickly. It was exciting to actually start writing code after a few weeks of learning and getting the hang of things. It feels like I am actually contributing to the project now, and I am excited to start on my next tasks!
This week was the fourth of July, so I went on a trip to Portland, Oregon! I traveled by Amtrak train, which was supposed to take 3.5 hours, but actually took 5 due to some delays. However, I spent those 5 hours finishing my tasks for the week, so that meant 5 hours of coding straight! It was quite productive, so maybe those delays weren’t so bad after all. I had a ton of fun in Portland! I went to a bunch of cool restaurants, a beautiful park that overlooked the whole city and had a stunning view of Mt. Hood, a quirky outdoor church with a replica of the Pietá by Michelangelo ensconced in a cave at the base of a cliff in a park in the middle of Portland, and had some delicious hotdogs on the fourth.
Because of this trip, I got a lot more accustomed to Seattle itself, as I had to take a bus, the light rail, and the train all in one day to get to Portland. Back home, I don’t use public transportation at all, so this is a big shift for me! It was smooth sailing the whole way, and it’s cool to live in a city with so many options for transportation. Overall, it was a great way to spend the long weekend, and I am ready for another week of DREU!
Week 4Back to top
This week I worked on more data cleaning and preparation for my research project. We had to do multiple verification steps on the code that we had written to ensure that everything was triple checked, cross-referenced, and free of errors so that we could move onto the next phase and have (hopefully) less issues when we start analyzing the data. I started having daily scrum meetings with the group that I am working with where we update each other on what we have accomplished and what we plan to do by the next meeting. These meetings are very helpful as well because we can get our questions answered by the Ph.D. student in charge of our task assignments and make sure we are on the right path at every step of the process. Also, I have been paired up in a mentoring group with two people since my DREU mentor had to take an unexpected trip due to a family emergency. I am still in regular communication with my mentor, but I am able to meet with a peer mentor and a senior mentor every week to make sure I am on track with Dr. Mankoff’s plan for me this summer.
In addition, I am now a peer mentor for another person working with Dr. Mankoff on a research project that has to do with lyme disease. I am going to help her learn Python so that she can do her own research with Dr. Mankoff, and so I will be meeting with her and her senior mentor, who is also my peer mentor, every week to discuss progress and help troubleshoot with Python and data visualization. It is pretty cool because I have tutored programming before and I am a mentor in my job at my university, but I have never mentored in a research capacity! I am excited to keep working with all these people as the weeks go by.
This week I also got a better understanding of my end goal for this summer since I applied to become a CRA-W GHC Research Scholar and present a poster of my research at GHC this October in Orlando, Florida. I am already attending the conference as a recipient of the GHC 2019 Student Scholarship, but I am thrilled to possibly present a poster at the conference as well! I had to write a poster title and abstract for the application, so I was able to get help from my senior mentor on how to even write an abstract, because I had never done that before. I hope I am selected!
This weekend, I went tandem kayaking at the UW Waterfront Activities Center and it was AMAZING! We kayaked around Union Bay, which is part of Lake Washington, and we discovered something called the Arboretum, which is an area underneath and past the freeway that crosses Union Bay. We kayaked under some foot bridges and beneath some freeways and found some really cool lily-pad guided trails, and there were lots of other kayakers enjoying the view and calm waters. It was a really spectacular day!
Week 5Back to top
I am officially halfway through the program, and I am very excited to be almost done with the data preparation step of my project. My group and I have been working really hard to get all our tasks done as they is so much data to analyze, thus there are so many configuration files to write so that the analyses down the line can happen more smoothly without errors in code or in visualizations. We are almost at the step to start cleaning which should take less time than the preparation, and once that is done, we will start doing some data analysis to see what direction we want to go.
Overall, this week has been good! I went to a talk from the Ph.D. student with whom I work and she was doing her qualifiers for her Ph.D. The talk was excellent, and it was really inspiring to see part of the Ph.D. process in action from someone with which I am working closely. The talk also had to do with the project on which we are now working, so it was very interesting to see the results they got in that paper that she was presenting.
At the end of this week, I went to Portland to sightsee again! I went on a 6 mile hike to Pittock Mansion, and saw a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood and Downtown Portland. It is such a beautiful city, and I am so lucky I get to see the wonders of Washington and Oregon throughout my time in my DREU. The pacific northwest is truly amazing, and I can’t wait to explore more!
Week 6Back to top
We had a big milestone this week in terms of my research project! We were able to finish the bulk of the data cleaning and preparation, and presented some findings and visualizations with the principal investigators. We had a lengthy meeting about our findings and where to dig in deeper for the paper, and I am excited to continue working on higher level parts of the project. We also are ready to begin digging deeper into the trauma and substance use side of the project since we have the data ready. We will start by creating variables for different kinds of trauma and analyzing those against varying kinds of substance use, but specifically cannabis use.
In other news, I was selected to present a poster of my DREU research at the Grace Hopper Celebration Conference in Orlando, FL, this October! I am super excited to present my findings and also to meet all the other CRA-W Research Scholars like myself! Orlando, here we go!
At the end of this week, I traveled to Portland, OR, again and did much more sightseeing! I went to a vista point that overlooked the river between Washington and Oregon, went to the Downtown Portland Saturday Market, and had lots of delicious food all over the city. The train rides to Portland actually serve as a good working environment, and I was able to get a ton of work done on the train to get ahead for next week and still have lots of fun over the weekend!
I am somewhat sad to head into my last month of my DREU program because it seems like it is going by so fast, but nevertheless I am excited to see what this last month has in store.
Week 7Back to top
These weeks are going by so fast! We are nearing the end of working with the data and will start doing major analyses next week. We’ve been rechecking and verifying a lot of our work to make sure that it is correct before we start analyzing and creating statistical summaries to ensure that everything is accurate. Since there is so much data to handle and process, I am learning how easy it is to get lost in all of it if one is disorganized about how to work with the data and with their approach. I am learning that I have to be very meticulous with my work so that we can continue to move forward with each step of the project.
I am growing much more accustomed to working in the lab as well, and I am really enjoying participating in a research project overall. I really enjoy that we are working towards a goal of searching for an unknown answer. I enjoy that we don’t really know what we fill find once we dig into the data, but that we are trying to find meaning in whatever we come up with. I think it’s very exciting!
This week I attended a Seattle HCI Gathering at a nearby brewery and that was really fun! I went with people from the lab I work with and was able to meet some new people who work in this same area from all over the city. It was also a great experience to get to know my lab-mates better. I hope they have more of those events through the rest of my time here!
Week 8Back to top
This week, my team and I had to do a lot of meticulous work to go over the questions in our surveys and the questions that we had submitted to the IRB to make sure that everything was documented. It took a long time, but it taught me a lot about how specific and meticulous this work has to be when it comes to studies and what is included vs. what is not included. It has to be very organized, and documenting every step or change is very important.
This week, we also created regression models and presented them at a meeting with the entire project group. It was a very productive meeting and we are starting to make progress on deciding what are important scales to keep and analyze further and which ones are not. Meeting with the principal investigators and collaborating has been a really insightful experience for me to learn how the research process works and how interdisciplinary projects work, since there are people from many different fields working on this project.
Besides work, this weekend I took a trip to Vancouver, BC, Canada for a day and it was super fun! The drive up was so nice and really quick––I had no idea how close it was to Seattle and how easy it was to get there! The day I spent in Vancouver was lovely––I visited Stanley Park’s Rose Garden, Prospect Point Lookout, and Totem Pole exhibit, I went to Downtown Vancouver and saw all the high fashion and modern eateries, and spent some time in a very hip area called Yaletown. It was a really fun trip and I can’t wait to go back one day in the future!
Only 2 weeks left and I am definitely astounded at how fast time has been flying by this summer. Let’s live it up for the next 2 weeks!
Week 9Back to top
As my time at my DREU program is coming to an end, I am figuring out how I will be able to continue working on any project after I leave, as there is still much to do and the team wants to keep working together! We have accomplished a lot this summer, but I do want to continue working on it remotely. This week, we continued developing our scripts to score our scales that we had assigned lower priority and processed the rest of the data from the other phases of the study. We got through a lot, and we are continuing developing regression models in our quest to find the best variables to explain the changes in our mental health output variables.
I have learned a lot about the scientific research process in this data science project. In terms of statistical analysis, which I have not done a lot of in practice, I’ve learned a lot about what to look for in descriptive summaries and regression models, and how to see the signs of overfitting. I have learned about these things in previous classes, but I have never had to apply my knowledge of them in a real life research application.
This weekend, some of my family members visited Seattle and we had a great time! I showed them downtown, Pike Place Market, the Seattle Center, including the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Wallingford, University Village, and we took a day trip to Victoria, BC, Canada by ferry. It was a super fun weekend and my family really loved Seattle, and I had a great time showing them around.
This upcoming week will be somewhat melancholy as I finish up my program and say bye to those that I have met, but I am excited to continue working on this project after I leave.
Week 10Back to top
This week flew by! We finished up a lot of the tasks that were taking a while to get done since we were creating our own scoring schemes for some of the scales in our surveys, and in order to make them scaleable for past and future surveys, I spent a long time figuring out the code. However, I finished that so we were able to process and clean all of the data in order to continue running more regression models.
This week, I went to a potluck picnic with others from the lab and my mentor. I had lots of fun! Since our project is not exactly done yet, and we want to write a paper based on this research, my mentor and I talked about having me continue to work remotely on the project and be a co-author on a paper. I am extremely excited to learn even more about the research process in terms of paper-writing since I have never done that.
Moving out of my house was somewhat hectic since I had to pack up all my kitchenware and things, but I got out by my check-out time and out of Seattle for the summer. I am excited to continue working on this project and hope that we can write a paper on this work! DREU has been a really fantastic experience and it has taught me that I really enjoy research and I want to continue finding opportunities for research up through graduate school.