By Maureen C. Curran
PRIME 2006 Students Reflect on Experience
San Diego, CA, November 9, 2006 -- An information session about the Pacific Rim Undergraduate Experiences (PRIME) program will be held today, Thursday, Nov. 9 in the Computer Science and Engineering Building, rm. 1202. PRIME is an unique program which provides undergraduates with summer collaborative research opportunities at academic and research institutions across the Pacific Rim.
Peter Arzberger, a PRIME co-organizer and Calit2-affiliated researcher, will talk about opportunities to work on research projects in Asia and Australia. PRIME host scientist David Abramson from Monash University in Australia will also be there.
PRIME has two components: an international, cultural one and a research one. Both are essential to achieve their goal of better preparing students to work in the global economy and the international research environments of the present and future.
"We are immersing the students in both of these things because we are providing them with experiential training in both the conduct of research and in the international global workplace," explains Gabriele Wienhausen, the principal investigator on PRIME and the founding provost of UCSD's Sixth College.
"It's just a totally different experience being able to live somewhere, not just be a student there, not just a tourist, but to live and work there, getting to know the place," says Iwen Wu. She wrote an article about the program for the UCSD Bioengeneering Club newsletter (link below).
Students spend the summer (nine weeks) in the host country working on a research project with mentors at both the host institution and back here at UCSD. The host cities are Osaka (Japan), Hsinchu and Taipei (Taiwan), Beijing (China), and Melbourne (Australia).
All of the host organizations are participants in the Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA) collaborative program, a Calit2 partner; Arzberger is PRAGMA's principal investigator. Linda Feldman, a senior analyst in UCSD's Academic Internship Program, is the third PRIME co-organizer. The PRIME program is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with additional support from Calit2.
Now that they have lived and worked in different culture -- very far from home -- the 14 summer of 2006 students are reflecting on the life impacting quality of their experiences and how their perspectives have changed.
"The summer was wonderful, amazing," says Celia Croy, "it's the best experience I've ever had, by far. I learned a lot about a new field of science that I was not familiar with and a lot about myself."
"The summer gave me a brand new outlook on the field of research and the cultural aspect was a big part of it," says Cathy Chang. Across the board, the students highly recommend the program, and nearly half would like to go again, some to the same country, others would like to try someplace new.
"So much trial and error" is a phrase used often in the descriptions of the work conducted by the students. They all learned the importance of it in research. Angelina Altshuler points out that "research in the real world takes a lot of time and patience." Elaine Liu adds "that was a major challenge, you're exploring the unknown, so it takes a lot more time than it looks."
The research projects were diverse: avian flu, astronomy and tiled-wall displays, docking simulations, cardiac modeling, signal detection, earthquake engineering, visualization with tiled-wall displays, developing algorithms for neural networks, comparing and developing computational tools and others.
The projects that the students worked on were not "undergraduate" or dumbed down projects, they were part of ongoing work in the host and UCSD mentors' labs. While doing a literature search for her project, Lisa Zhao discovered a journal article published just two weeks before, that exactly described her project. "I had no idea that the work I was doing was at that level," she recounts, "it made me feel really proud of what I was doing."
"I had a internship previously which was on research that had been done before," relates Stephen Chen, "but this summer, it was work that had not been done before." Noah Ollikaninen speaks about his "amazing experience working on a project that has significant implications to biological research and it's grid related, so it's large scale."
For Marshall Levesque, learning more about how the scientific research world works, how important it is, made him realize "how much more I want to be a part of it." A few students discovered that research may not be right for them.
Several students were excited to learn that their future opportunities are much wider than they originally had thought. "I am looking at the international scale now, and want to work abroad," Lisa Zhao explains, "I wasn't even open to that before, but this experience has done that for me." Elaine Liu concurs: "This made me want to go abroad more often, work or do my grad studies abroad. It opened my eyes to the world, and made me realize that there is so much more that I never considered before."
The students took advantage of the new cultures around them, often spending their weekends exploring their environs: local festivals, art, history, museums, shopping, traveling to different places in the host country, etc. Students with Asian ancestry who chose not-too-far removed 'homeland' sites were surprised to find that even they had a lot to learn about the cultures of their host nations. Lily Cheng professes: "I thought I would fit right in: it's China, I'm Chinese. That wasn't the case at all, which was both pleasing and shocking."
As Stephen Chen points out "it's all part of the cultural experience that no matter how Asian you think you are, when you actually go to the country, they all know you're American, from the subtle way you act, dress, interact with others. We see this a lot in America. There are many foreigners living here and it's only once in a while that you get a chance to put yourself in their feet and see what it feels like."
"The Institute of International Education has a great statement on their web site that sums up what PRIME is trying to do," says PRIME's Peter Arzberger, "to paraphrase: All these technologies that these students talk about, all the technologies that the Calit2 UCSD building represents, these open the boundaries for them to do things, but it's the educational and professional exchange that opens the minds."
After all, as Daniel Goodman points out: "Scientists are scientists, no matter what country you go to. There is a link, we like that kind of stuff, we think in a similar way ..."
PRIME 2006 Student Collections
PRIME: Research Abroad (Iwen Wu in Bio-E Quarterly)
Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA)
Computer Network Information Center (Beijing)
Cybermedia Center of Osaka University
National Center for High-performance Computing
Institute of International Education
Calit2 Helps UCSD Undergraduates 'PRIME' For The Future