I’ll be honest, here: I’ve never conducted undergraduate research before, so coming in, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. All I could imagine was had a fairly vague picture of a stereotypical old professor dude and his young mentee sitting in a dimly lit 20th-century-style study, intently bent over the scrambled documents on his incredibly large desk with mile-high stacks of books surrounding the pair as they copied notes. Of course I never expected such a scene during my research this summer, but that was all I could fathom in my mind’s eye at the thought of the term “research,” when not related to a physical science like chemistry. I’ve always been unsure about most things in life when it comes to decision-making, except for when it came time to choose a university and a field of study. Since computer science has a broad range of careers that branch from it, however, I often find myself back at square one. When this research opportunity presented itself in the form of a bulletin board notice, I started considering the possibility of conducting undergraduate research. The topics seemed engaging and I’ve generally considered myself naturally curious. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it out and see if I could picture a career with it, so I applied and was offered the chance to test my curiosity.
During this past week, I met my mentor for the first time in person, Dr. Farzana Rahman (who seems like an awesome person, by the way), have been reacquainting myself with the Java programming language with the help of two textbooks and lots of sticky notes, learning how to build a simple Android application using a software interface called “Android Studio,” and reading research essays and reports that are related in some way, shape, or form to our project. Surprisingly, the eight-hour workdays haven’t been as draining as I’d feared; in fact, the time really does fly by. The papers sometimes got monotonous when there was little to actively reflect on, but for the most part, I enjoyed reading them, marking them up, and writing my summaries and analyses. At the very least, the facilities that house the computer science department also have a nicely quaint rooftop patio and garden where I can also do my reading and take lunch. As someone who has never coded an application and hasn’t touched Java in a few years, Android Studio was definitely confusing at first. My initial impression of the software is that it was meant for both veteran programmers and sort-of-newbies to use, since there were a great number of things to do than just type in code. As I page further through the textbooks and the syntax of the language returns to me, I find that I am more easily understanding the software and its online documentation. I expect I’ll finish relearning the language and start creating more complex, working apps in seemingly no time, hopefully within the next week or so.
I guess now’s as good a time as any to explain what Dr. Rahman and I hope to achieve over these next two months, since I didn’t get around to doing it earlier in the post. A number of studies have already proven that passive mobile sensing for those afflicted with mental disorders are feasible, such as for those struggling with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. We’re looking to follow suit for dementia. Our goal is to develop an Android mobile phone application that systematically analyzes continuous and passive sensory data values in real time to more quickly detect the onset of dementia phases and alert both the user and their primary caretaker (and doctor, if necessary) to bring attention to the user’s necessity for treatment. At this time, we have not yet begun creating the application, but this is our current end goal. I am feeling hopeful about this project and am looking forward to learning more about this subject. If I find the next seven weeks just as engaging as this one has been, I think I may have found my calling; ask me again at the end of the program…