Nathan Hwang

Goodbye, REU

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Wait, I don’t think I’ve ever told you guys what I was actually studying. So, I guess I better start there, especially since I have a better idea of what I was doing now that it’s over.

The REU (Research Experience for Undergrads) was based in Calpoly, with a focus on robotics. My particular project’s long term goal was to track/follow sharks with multiple AUVs, with the short-term summer goal of tracking/following a boat with one AUV. In short, we (research team had 4 people in it, with two of us ending up branching towards some very different target) failed pretty miserably at attaining that goal. If you don’t mind, I’m going to rant a bit on why that happened, instead of blabbering about the details of the project, which aren’t that interesting anyways.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that speed is incredibly important. It’s not a very good mantra for a plethora of reasons, but didn’t have the raw speed to make up for our other shortcomings. For instance, I only knew rudimentary opamp theory going into the REU, but I spent the better part of a day learning what I needed to know. Now, spending a day learning 30-minutes of information is bad, and that sort of situation happened over and over again. Sometimes it was inevitable, like learning to use Eagle taking two days. Much of the time, it wasn’t. Generally speaking, I was working full time on a series of problems, and once days started to slip by with token progress, I should have known something was up.

Another problem I’m going to peg our failure to score a goal on is the agonizingly slow start we got off to. Now that it’s over, it feels like if we started with what we knew at our 3rd week, then we could’ve really done some damage. Not doing homework before getting there was a problem, certainly, as well as the closely related problem of not pounding our advisors with more important questions. I don’t even think the problem was well-defined in our heads until a few weeks in, which in retrospect was a very, very big problem, and probably why we didn’t know what we were doing for the first two weeks.

A comparison might be handy: it was very much unlike the MCM, where we had a concrete goal and a very short time period in which to do something about it. Our project stayed undefined for a while, and stayed murky, and we had a relatively long time in which to do something (bad, since I only pulled my requisite all-nighter (of course! it’s not an REU if you haven’t pulled an all-nighter) on the last night (I do not recommend pulling it the night before a presentation, though). It feels like motivation goes way down when there’s too much time: much stricter goal setting and goal meeting insanity on my part would have ameliorated this somewhat).

So I guess I’ll end my rant here. It was a very valuable experience, and I was glad I got to do it. I just wish…

No. I’m really ending my rant, and going to go do something cool. Hopefully I’ll have something to show by the end of the week.

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