Undergraduate Researcher Profile: Ariel Anders

 Ariel Anders graduated from UCSC in 2012 and is currently a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology continuing to research in robotics at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.  Before coming to UCSC from Bakersfield, she did not know anyone involved in research.   Programs in the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences and the Baskin School of Engineering introduced her to research at UCSC.

How did you become interested in research?

 "During employee orientation at ACE (ACademic Excellence), I heard about the MARC (Minority Access to Research Careers) program from Malika Bell and Yuli Ortega" who run the STEM Diversity Programs, and "through Success in Engineering Summer Bridge I heard first hand experiences from students that were currently in the [MARC, IMSD, CAMP, UC LEADS, RAD] programs.   I was interested in research because it was an avenue I could actually apply the skills I was learning in my coursework." 

When Anders went on a tour of the Bionics Lab with Professor Jacob Rosen, she was impressed by the surgical robots and exoskeletons.  The tour was part of the Computer Engineering course, Statistics and Dynamics in BioMechanics (CMPE 9). "At this time we were covering the dynamics of pulleys. During office hours I told him about my previous interest in medicine...; at the end of office hours he offered to show us the Raven 2, the surgical robot, that uses a complex pulley system.  The idea of improving technology to improve health care or the quality of life for others is an idea that I am still passionate about today."

What did you do to prepare for undergraduate research?
Nothing other than the ordinary curriculum for the first two years of a computer engineering degree. There's not much you can do to prepare for a research project other than start working on that project.  
(Caveat)  Many students get involved in research without realizing that they will need to convey their work in a coherent and concise manner. This was, and is, a challenge for me.  I think one of the best ways you can prepare for research is to hone your writing skills and presentation capabilities.  
How did you get involved? 
I applied to SURF-IT (Summer Undergraduate Research in Information Technology) and MARC ...and must have adequately conveyed my passion to work in the Bionics lab in my personal statements because I was accepted into SURF-IT and placed in the Bionics Lab for the Summer of 2010.  I continued my work I had started with the MARC fellowship for part of the summer and the remaining two years of my degree. 
What project and lab/research group did you work with?
I worked in the Bionics Lab under Professor Jacob Rosen on Dental Robotics.  I used the Denso VM60B1G and implemented autonomous dental implants and crowning preparation surgeries on dental models.  My work was done in hardware, software, and sometimes I even got to develop custom parts using a laser cutter.  
What was the lab or research group’s culture like?
The Bionics Lab had about 6 graduate students and one post-doc and a handful of undergraduate students.  Most people were working collaboratively on the upper-limb exoskeleton, the surgical robot, and most recently, the motion capture system.  We had an open and easy-going environment where people could freely discuss their research challenges and every now and then a couple of jokes too.  The group was very outdoorsy with lots of mountain bikers and some of the guys would go running in the woods every day.  I miss it.
Describe a typical day for you in the lab.
There rarely was a typical day in the lab!  My project was very versatile, so for one week I might be working on a similar topic and the next couple of weeks I would work on something completely different.  Typically, Professor Rosen and I had weekly meetings at the beginning of the week where we would set up what my goals were for that week.  The next week, we would evaluate how those goals were accomplished and set new ones or change the existing ones.  If I stumbled into a challenge during the week, Rosen had an open door policy and I could meet with him earlier and discuss different strategies.  
Did the group have regular meetings? Were they helpful?
The group had weekly (or more frequent) meetings for the individual projects.  During my last year we started lab meetings where everyone would give everyone an update on their project.  These meetings are helpful, because it makes you think what did you do this week and helps make you accountable!  Not to mention, it opens the floor for the lab members to discuss different approaches if someone mentions a challenge during their weekly recap.  
2015 Update:  Ariel is pursuing her PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Her personal website is here.

Picture: Ari Anders
Interview Compiled: Rebecca Anderson, February 2013