Date Posted: 10/06/2022

It was a standing-room-only crowd at the fall 2022 CS Research Night, an event held each semester to showcase the range of research opportunities available to undergraduate computer science majors at the university.

The Association of Computer Science Undergraduates (ACSU) hosted the event on Oct. 3rd, which featured opening remarks by Kavita Bala, dean of the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, and a panel discussion, moderated by Justin Hsu, assistant professor of computer science. Following the panel, students filled the hallways of Gates Hall, where they chatted with doctoral students about research opportunities in their labs.   

“There are just so many exciting things going on in this building and we want you to be exposed to that,” Bala said. “We have world-class faculty and students who are changing the future of this field.”

Research experience is a valuable component of an undergraduate education, giving students a taste of what graduate school is like, while also enabling them to develop useful skills, and add to their resumes. Unlike in classes, where students work on defined problems, “research is the open frontier,” Bala said. “That open-endedness is something that you don’t really get exposed to but that is important to your education. It’s both scary and exhilarating at the same time.”

"Cornell faculty and graduate students are conducting cutting-edge research in all areas of computer science, but most undergraduates don't know how to take advantage of these opportunities,” Hsu said. “A primary goal of Research Night is to make undergraduate research seem less intimidating and encourage undergraduates to get involved."

Students can engage in research during the semester, either for payment or course credit, or they can apply for a summer research experience through the Computer Science Undergraduate Research Program (CSURP).

Many panelists at Research Night got their start through CSURP. The panelists included undergraduates Anya Ji, Ruyu Yan, Charles Sherk, and graduate student Katherine Lee. They answered audience questions ranging from, “How do you get started?” to “How do you balance research and coursework?”

They advised students to approach professors or graduate students who are doing compelling work to find research opportunities, and not to let a less-than-perfect GPA stop them. Even for students interested in industry, they counseled that a research experience will yield transferable skills and can help clarify their desired career path.

While the panelists were encouraging, they were honest about the challenges. “There can be full weeks of banging your head at something, and then weeks of being in the flow,” said Lee, who works on language models in David Mimno’s group.

After the panel, undergraduate students had the opportunity to talk with graduate students about their work and potential openings in their labs during a poster session. The topics spanned computer science, with projects in machine learning, robotics, computer languages, natural language processing, and computer graphics.   

Lauren Greenhill, a junior computer science major at the poster session, has been doing research with Space Systems Design Studio since her freshman year, working on a tiny satellite, called a CubeSat, that will be released from the International Space Station later this academic year. Specifically, she is programming a light sail to open up at just the right time, which will detach from the CubeSat and propel itself using solar energy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Greenhill said. “It is the best part of my undergrad experience. I get to deploy what I learn in class in the real world.”  

By Patricia Waldron, a science writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.