When I first learned summer research was an option at Furman, I immediately thought that would be the last thing I wanted to do. I thought about being cooped inside all day doing more schoolwork when I was supposed to be on a break from school. I did not understand why people would actually want to do research. Oh, how wrong I was.
Going into Furman, I did not know math research was an option, I thought it was strictly for the sciences. Now, a few years later, I know how extensive the options for research are. They include psychology and science, as well as education, computer science, math, and more!
My decision to want to do summer research shocked me. Research was simply never something that interested me before. However, I remember the end of my freshmen year learning that a lot of my sophomore friends were doing research and looking forward to it. Then, coming back after that summer, these same friends were talking about how much they enjoyed it, which surprised me. As they told me more about what they learned, the bonds they formed, and the experiences they had, I realized it was something I wanted to do. I found myself applying for to do research and looking forward to the summer.
Once accepted, it became time for us SMURFs to think about projects. My summer project became recreational math, which I did with one other student and two professors, Dr. John Harris and Dr. Lori Alvin. Before the semester ended and summer started, we discussed a few potential projects, but the real fun did not start until summer.
During summer, we got to personalize our work by picking projects that were interesting to us. A few projects involved board games, another a magic trick, and yet another a series of sticks that had a mathematical trick allowing the person to know the sum of four 4-digit numbers in a matter of seconds. Some I worked on with the other student, and some by myself. All involved learning the math behind what we were studying and why math made it work. It was interesting to be able to figure out winning strategies as well as how magic tricks are successful.
A large part of summer research that had the most impact was the guidance yet freedom that we had. While the research would usually be done on our own, we started almost every day with a check-in with our professors. They would push us to investigate things that were challenging to us, assisting and helping when needed, but allowing us to grow as researchers.
Furthermore, every other Friday all the students and professors would meet up and the students would present the progress on our projects and what our next steps were, plus answer any questions from the audience. It was a great way to practice presenting and being able to share the information in an understandable way, something just as important as the information itself. These presentations also helped us researchers create our final posters which we go on to present the following school year at Furman Engaged. Additionally, there are options to attend different conferences and present your findings to professionals in each field which can lead to connections and interviews!
Another benefit of summer research is that it resembles a real-world work environment. I had a chance to work on many skills that are needed in the work world, such as presentation skills, time management, independence, and also collaboration. We worked similar to a 9-5 job giving us the opportunity to explore Greenville as well as spend time and build connections with the other students that were at Furman for the summer.
As I have mentioned, summer research is a great opportunity. There are chances to be published, experiences that are irreplaceable, and lessons learned that cannot be taught in the classroom. And yes, it is paid. And while all of these were extremely influential, none of these were what make summer research stand out for me or what meant the most. It was the environment around me, the care shown towards me. The effort the professors put in to getting know me, how I worked, and what I was interested in was incredible. They made sure I was not only learning a lot, but also enjoying it along the way! This was true not just for the two professors I worked closely with, but for all the professors in the math department and the fellow researchers. We truly formed a family, letting me meet new people and further the relationships with people I already knew. This was evident from the daily lunches we would take together on the library steps, to the birthday celebrations for professors and students, to the optional weekly activities that the math department such as top golf, kickball, or Pelicans snowballs that we looked forward to every week! It showed that research was more about the work that you were doing, it was about enjoying the experience and getting to know the people around you so that everyone could do their best work.
Each research opportunity looks different at Furman. However, there are things that are consistent as well. The professors care about the students and want them to do well, students and professors alike put lots of effort into making the research the best it can be, students get to work closely with experienced professors, and different departments have something that makes it special (like the Chemistry department held the competition for Iron Chemist)! Each experience is truly one of a kind and something that none of us would have received any other place besides Furman, especially as undergraduate students.
I can honestly say that doing research was one of the best summers of my life. I loved it so much that I choose to do research again this summer! And, while it may not be in person as expected, I know the relationships built and lessons learned will be no less influential. I am extremely grateful for this experience I will never forget.
By: Devon Waskiewicz, Furman Class of 2021