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Stanford welcomes students to Engineering Research Introductions Conference

Stanford Engineering Research Introductions (SERI) hosted sixteen college students from diverse backgrounds for its inaugural conference on Friday and Saturday.

Third-year electrical engineering Ph.D. student Sebastian Fernandez MS ’21, third-year Ph.D. student Claire Anderson MS ’21, third-year Ph.D. student Chandler Brown MS ’21 and second-year Ph.D. student Arynn Gallegos organized SERI as a means of providing students with the tools they need to successfully complete undergraduate research and apply to graduate school.

“What we aim to do is help you get to where you would like to be at the end of your undergraduate career,” Fernandez said to the students. “And then at that point, the world is your oyster. You can go anywhere.”

Of the 16 participants, 10 were Stanford students, while the other six came from outside universities.

The in-person conference consisted of three graduate student panels, four faculty research presentations and three lab tours from students and faculty in multiple engineering departments at Stanford. Fernandez said he hoped students would “be able to take lessons from everyone here and build your own path and create your own journey.”

During the “Applying to Things 101” seminar, students learned how to make their applications stand out. Advice focused on demonstrating independence and initiative, as well as being receptive to feedback. The students were taught that each piece of their application had to demonstrate passion and purpose for their experience and future work.

SERI also took students on a laboratory tour, directed by assistant mechanical engineering professor Wendy Gu, mechanical engineering professor Allison Okamura and civil engineering professor Richard Luthy.

Students tour engineering laboratories during the SERI inaugural event (Photo courtesy of SERI organizers)

During the faculty panel, attendees heard from assistant professor of electrical engineering Dan Congreve and assistant professor in computer science and electrical engineering Chelsea Finn. Congreve researches controlling light at the nanoscale, while Finn presented her work on broad robot generalization with broad offline data.

Graduate student panelists Monika Decker MS ’23, Richmond Odufisan MS ’22 and Jessica Tawade MS ’22 discussed finding research opportunities, financing graduate school, applying for graduate school and choosing between master’s and Ph.D. programs. Odufisan, originally a Ph.D. student, told the participant that Ph.D. Programs are more like jobs “because you’re being paid to do research.” In contrast, a master’s student will “take classes, do problem sets and do research,” she said.

Three graduate student panelists sit in front of a projected presentation reading “Stanford Engineering Research Introductions 2022”
Graduate student panelists Jessica Tawade (left), Richmond Odufisan (center), and Monika Decker (right) answering student questions about graduate school (Photo: Griffin Clark / The Stanford Daily)

Participants said they learned a lot from the conference and are now more clear on the path to becoming a graduate student.

Olivia Lee ’24 said she was grateful to be given the chance to learn how graduate school differs from undergraduate studies. During the conference, she learned about “the importance of lab culture and relationships with advisors in graduate school,” she said. Hasani Spann ’25 also said he feels he has finally “gotten in the room concerning something I really was considering as a prospect but didn’t have concrete, step-to-step information about.”

Giannka Picache ’25 expressed appreciation for the program and the knowledge it provided her.

“I think this program was super helpful, and everyone was super accommodating,” Picache said. “Starting early is what really matters. Having the knowledge and the general bigger picture in the back of my mind while climbing the stairs of undergrad really helps.”

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