Weekly Journals: June 13th - August 21st

Home -- About Me -- About My Mentor -- About My Research -- Weekly Journal -- Final Report

Week 1: June 13-19, 2010

     My first week here at UW and in Seattle has been both exciting and challenging. I found an apartment being subletted for the months of June-August, which fit perfectly for my 10 weeks here. I moved in on the 11th (last Friday) and spent the rest of the weekend unpacking and getting situated in my new place. My apartment is in University District, which is about a 10-15 minute walk to the University of Washington. There are a lot of shops and food places close by.
     I met Julie on Monday and she showed me to my desk and also gave me a set of keys to the lab. We discussed the details of the Baby Steps project and what it is exactly that I will be doing. I met the rest of the team on Tuesday. Julie runs the Computing for Healthy Living and Learning (CHILL) Lab, which I am now a part of. The lab has meetings every Wednesday at 2 for a few hours so that every member can get help and input on their individual projects. The Baby Steps team itself meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:30, where we talk about accomplishments and further work.
     So far I've been working, along with another student, on building a database and a mock-up of the website. We used MySQL for our database, through the MySQL Query Browser tools that are available for download from the MySQL website. We are also using PHP to build our website. This was the most challenging part thus far, but it has been fun and I am learning a lot. I've never written in PHP before so doing this has given me a lot of practice. I have also gotten the opportunity to learn Python because one of my team members was using it for another part of the project. It has only been the first week and I've already been exposed to two different languages that I probably would not learn otherwise. I am looking forward to the rest of this summer and to see what the final products will be!

Week 2: June 20-26, 2010

     My second week working has been very promising. My mentor thought it would be a good idea for me and the other two undergraduates who are working together on the project to join the EURP through the university. EURP stands for the Engineering Undergraduate Research Program and includes all technical fields: civil engineering, electrical engineering, etc. We had our orientation on Monday where we were introduced to the other researchers on campus for the summer. There are about 27 undergraduates in our program, with 3 non-UW students (including me). The program is basically a support system for all of us doing work in different labs. We get together every Wednesday for lunch from 12:00-1:30 and discuss what's been going on with our work. We will also have workshops or speakers pertaining to portfolios or research during that time. This week we had a dean come speak to us about Biomedical Imaging, which was very interesting! We also had a welcome barbecue with all of the other research groups on campus, totaling about 100 or so students at Magnuson Park. The park was very big, and the weather was great on Wednesday for it. I met a lot of people and am really starting to enjoy myself here.
     As far as my actual research project, I've been working all week on developing a basic Baby Steps website. Learning mySQL queries and writing them in PHP has proven to be a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, but I am getting through it slowly. So far I've provided functionalities such as logging in, registering, adding contact information, adding children profiles, and a basic summary page of the account for the website. Because Julie will be gone for the next two weeks, I'll be working on adding more functionality as well as designing the site. One of the other members of the team is working on a system that will send out SMS texts to those who sign up for Baby Steps and the last member is working on a similar system to automate twitter updates for those who follow our twitter account.

Week 3: June 27-July 3, 2010

     I have been here three weeks so far and I've already made a lot of progress! Because Julie was gone for this week and for next week (she's getting married!) we all had tasks that were left up to us during her absence. I've still been working on the website, and so far I feel very accomplished! I have functionality that shows each child's profile and the different milestones they have completed. The parents are given the option of changing a milestone's progress from yes, maybe, and no. It also shows the date that the response was changed. This may not sound very exciting, but it was quite a challenge to pull from so many different tables in the database. I had to write PHP scripts that pulled from many different tables to display the correct information. After that, I put in form validation for the registration page, as well as the adding contact profile and child profile pages. I never thought I'd enjoy creating a website as much as I do, but this project has helped me develop a lot and I am very happy about it.
     As far as other activities I've been doing, for EURP we are creating personal online portfolios. The portfolios are supposed to help us capture and document our summer research experience. I am very interested in doing this portfolio because it will help me remember details of this experience forever. I am also interested in it because it gives me more room to write about one of my experiences. I have written many resumes, which don't allow me to truly recap everything. I even think the process of creating the portfolio will help me with my resume because I can capture the good points in a resume, and elaborate on the challenges and failures I experienced in my portfolio. During our "brown bag lunch" that we have every Wednesday, we had many small group talks about the importance of a portfolio and how it can be useful. All of the reasons that were presented made me really want to do my best on the portfolio.
     Another thing I want to mention is the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. One of my good friends from school came to visit me on Tuesday and is staying until next Wednesday! The good thing about research is the flexibility we get as far as hours. When I first came, Julie told me that I can come in whenever and leave whenever. I really like this because I can come in and finish what I want and have the luxury of leaving when I'm burnt out. I've been leaving early all week because I wanted to do some exploring with my friend in Seattle. We've seen a lot and I'm starting to really enjoy the city and also UW!

Week 4: July 4-10, 2010

     I've just completed my fourth week here! A whole month under my belt and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of things around here. First I want to talk about Independence Day Weekend because I saw a lot of Seattle and it was a lot of fun! First, on Saturday, my friend and I went Pike's Market downtown. This is where they have the famous "fish-tossing" amongst many other things. Though it was many tourists there, I had a lot of fun because I haven't been to Seattle since I was a little girl. We had a whole crab each and it was so good! We also went to a few of the other shops there, which overall were very pleasing. I had a great time. Then on Sunday, the 4th, we went to Gas Works Park to see the fireworks. The show was very good and we had a great view. There were so many people there but everyone was very friendly and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
     As far as the week and the project, I've just been adding some styling to the Baby Steps website. I added a header and footer as well as a separate login screen. Honestly, I didn't know what else to do because I didn't know what else to add to the website. I am happy that Julie is coming back next week so that we can meet and talk about what is next as far as the website. I know as soon as it is somewhat done, we will be conducting usability tests to see what else can be improved. I am looking forward to actually conducting these tests because I've never done them before.

Week 5: July 11-17, 2010

     This completes my fifth week here at UW and in DREU so I'm halfway done! I can't believe how fast this summer's been going but I've enjoyed myself and learned a lot so it was definitely worth it! I want to comment on the weather in Seattle, because it is a lot different here than in the Midwest or East Coast. There is barely any humidity so even when the temperature is in the 80s or 90s, it's bearable. The saying here is that "summer doesn't begin until July 5th" which I have definitely found to be true! When I left Grand Rapids (in Michigan, my hometown) the temperature was in the 80s & very humid early June. When I got here, it was chillier and rainy. I had to go from wearing sundresses to jeans and a jacket! But I got used to it, and the weather has definitely picked up since. But there are still days where it is a bit cooler, today for example, where the high is around 69 and cloudy. It definitely takes getting used to!
     Julie also came back this week from her two week break. She got married and we're all still waiting on pictures! We've had a couple meetings to update her on what we've been working on and all seems to be on track and going very well. I showed her my website and she liked it. We talked about a few other tweaks I could put in, and also about designing a usability test for users. We'll be enlisting some volunteers next week to test out my site, to see if it works properly and the layout isn't too confusing. I'll be making up about 5-6 tasks for them to carry out, such as "Register as a New User", "Add A Profile", etc. and watching them perform them to see how difficult (or easy) it is. It's going to be painful because if they get confused, I'll know where it all is but I won't be able to show them. But, I've never done any types of actually studies on people so this will be fun!
     We also had a seminar on graduate school as a part of our EURP brown-bag lunch this Wednesday. It was very informative and I liked the speaker a lot, a Dr. Sahr from the Electrical Engineering department here at UW. I'm very interested in going to graduate school, and the tips for when to apply, how to get in, and how to pay for it were very helpful! I'm excited for going to graduate school because I'll be able to continue my research interests and perhaps do more extensive work on what it is I am particularly interested in. I can't believe how quickly college is passing by me, I'll be a junior this fall and before I know it I'll be graduating!

Week 6: July 18-24, 2010

     I can't believe how fast this summer is going, in a month I'll be finished with my work here! This was an eventful week because I piloted my start up website at our lab meeting and also because we had a few talks through the EURP program. First with my actual project, I finished a lot of the functionality behind the Baby Steps website and wrote out some tasks for a potential user to try. The tasks were very simple, such as "Register a new account" or "Add a child profile". I checked with Julie on Tuesdays with my example tasks and then on Wednesday, I let a few of the other lab members try it out. I found that it isn't as simple as I thought because often the wording on the website didn't match the tasks and made it more difficult for users. I learned a lot about usability tests. It was very helpful because I realized some things that I need to fix that I never thought of beforehand. I still have a lot of work to do on the website before I leave. My next steps are to put in the adjustments and also to draw up a few mock-ups of what the site will actually look like, including color schemes and layouts.
     We also had some very interesting seminars to attend this week. The one we had during our lunch on Wednesday was about diversity in engineering. We played this "American Dream" game, which was definitely an eye-opener. We all lined up against a wall and took steps forward for "privileges" we have. For example, "take one step forward for being white" or "take one step backward if you had a job while in high school". Some factors were to be expected, such as gender and race, but others were very surprising. We also had a panel come in on Thursday to talk about graduate school. They were actual graduate students so their insight was very helpful. I learned a lot about reputations of different graduate programs and also the process for getting fellowships. I am very interested in going to graduate school so I'm very happy we had the opportunity to learn more about it.

Week 7: July 25-31, 2010

     This week has been very productive. I've been working on making some mockups of potential site layouts on powerpoint. I'm not very creative when it comes to colors and designs I realized, but I have a good idea of what I want included and I can always ask for help when the time comes. On the actual website, I'm spliting up some of the pages so that the information is more organized and readable. This summer has really given me a good grasp on web development, and I'm learning that I don't really want to do this in the future. I'm still putting a lot of work and dedication into it of course. I really appreciate the opportunity to figure out what areas of Computer Science I enjoy and don't enjoy so that I can better decide what to do in my future career. I've been doing extensive thinking about graduate school and I really want to go into HCI. I like the idea of developing new technology and conducting studies to analyze such technology. I like that it involves both technical and social skills and thinking.
     This has also been an eventful week in EURP because we're plannig an Outreach event for Math Academy students. UW has a program of bring high school seniors to campus for 4 weeks and allowing them to do some research. We're having an event for them and allowing them to practice their research projects and see what it is we are doing. I think it is a great idea because I never even heard of research until I actually got to college. This presents a different aspect of academia for those who might be interested. It is also a great recruitment tool for UW. I'm excited because working with kids is something I truly enjoy. I'm involved in many community service events at Villanova and was also throughout my high school career. I worked with talented students last summer and I didn't think I would get the chance to work with some this summer but since we are, I'm very happy about it!

Week 8: August 1-7, 2010

     As the weeks wind down, there is more and more to be done! I'm putting the finishing touches on the website, though it isn't complete. We decided I would move on to designing a study around the website and that the website was good enough. I won't actually be here to conduct the study so Julie wanted me to get my feet wet in some actual research study design. I am very excited to do so because I'm not very familiar with doing anything like that. I'm also happy with the website. The aesthetics need a lot of work, but most of the functionality works and that was what I was aiming for. I cannot express how invaluable this opportunity has been for me because I've gained many technical and research skills. I learned PHP very thoroughly, and I also learned the importance of independent and group work within a research project. I'm looking forward to the study design and hope to add that to my list of things I take away from this summer research experience.
     These last two weeks coming up are also important within EURP because we'll be turning in a paper and presenting a poster at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. I'm familiar with this aspect of research because it is inevitable within the field of research. Along with the other two undergraduate students, we decided to work together on both because alone we do not have enough to write about. This will be fine because often there are many authors on such papers and posters in the professional world. We decided we're going to write about the individual parts we worked on and then put them all together when we join up to write the introduction and conclusion/future work. Though writing isn't necessarily my strong point, it will be a great first-hand experience of what writing professional technical papers is like. The poster is also important because many people present posters frequently in the field of research, at conferences, meetings, etc. This will also give us a lot of good practice for graduate school and if we decide to continue on in research.
     Lastly, this Thursday EURP held an outreach event for the Math Academy students. Math Academy is a program UW puts on for high school seniors to get a glimpse of what research and college is like. It is meant as a recruitment tool for both engineering and UW. I had a lot of fun helping out even though I am not a UW student. I love talking to kids, mentoring and tutoring, so this comes naturally for me. I think the kids had a great time also. We allowed them to rehearse their presentations, as well as take a few lab tours to see what undergraduate research was really like. We also held some panels about college and research to allow them to ask us questions, etc. It was really fun, they had some great questions. It reminded me a lot of my college process and was odd to realize that I've been out of high school for 2 years now!

Week 9: August 8-14, 2010

     This wraps up my second to last week here! This week was pretty hectic because we've been trying to write a research paper and also put together a research poster. Julie was also out of town so that added some difficulty because we need her to proofread and edit our paper and poster. But, it has been fun to wrap up and summarize all of our hardwork that we've done throughout the summer. The paper was interesting to write because it was written between myself, Natasha, and Richard (the two other undergraduates working on Baby Steps). It was important that we didn't repeat what someone else has said and that we all conformed to one writing style. The paper turned out great, we did a lot of interesting work that we liked to share! The poster was much more difficult because we had to present our work in a way that was captivating and informative. We had to be brief and also include images. Laying out a poster is more difficult because we had to find a way to fit everything that we wanted on there. But they are complete. After I put the finishing touches on them I will add them to my Final Report.
     This was also an eventful week in EURP because we had a review session for our portfolios. The portfolio proved to be very helpful for me to reflect on what I learned this summer so it was fun to share with everyone. We also had a barbecue/hang-out event for doing so well on the Outreach event. We had the barbecue at Gas Works Park, which is a very nice park (the same one I went to for Independence Day). I've gotten pretty close to some of the people in EURP and it was a fun time to hang out before I leave next week. I've exchanged numbers with some of my friends and I hope to keep in touch with them!
     My last project for Baby Steps with Julie is to start on a design for the research study that will be conducted to test our Computer-Mediated Communication Baby Steps system. Julie thought since I won't be here for the actual study, I could help design how the study would be ran. Natasha and I have been brainstorming some research questions we want answered by the study. We've also been discussing what type of population do we want to use as our test subjects. I never knew how many factors there are to take into consideration when conducting an experiment. We had to decide whether to have a control group and also what ways would we measure our results. I'll be working on this for my last week!

Week 10: August 15-21, 2010

     I can't believe it's over! This last week has been so bittersweet because though I'm happy to be going home and to be finished with work, I did meet so many great people here that I might not see again for a long time. This last week has been a lot of wrapping up and summarizing of what I did for the 10 weeks. I tried to comment the code for the website well so that whoever takes over the code can easily fix and understand it. I also left a "To Do" list for what I think should be fixed on the Baby Steps website in the future. I spoke with Julie about keeping me updated on the project because I am very interested in what the results will be from our proposed study and system. I also turned over all of the research study questions I came up with; I hope that they will help when it comes time to actually implement the study.
     As for EURP, we had the Undergraduated Research Poster Symposium on Wednesday. All last week and the beginning of this week, Natasha and I worked on the poster. We proofread and edited it and got it printed on Monday to get ready for Wednesday. The symposium went very well! Many people stopped by the see about our work and we got some very positive reactions. I think people were drawn to the project because it has a real-life application, one that almost everyone can relate to. It was great to practice talking and presenting my own work, a skill that I will always need. There were a lot of other interesting projects though. The symposium was for any STEM fields and included every undergraduate student who did such research, even if they weren't in EURP. I'm very happy to see so many good things being done through research!
     I also had a long talk with Julie on Wednesday as a final review of the summer and also just about my future in research. I'm very fortunate to have had such a great mentor! I told her about my plans for graduate school and what my research interests were and she gave me so many resources to look into. She knows a lot of faculty all over the country and I think I have a great headstart for the process of graduate school. I had a great time at UW overall and I would love to come back some time soon. Julie suggested applying here for graduate school and I most definitely will!