From COM S 192 to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research: A Tale of Two Students

May 16, 2023

 left photo is black male in red shirt, right photo is white male with glasses in blue shirtOne of the biggest pieces of advice our alumni have for our current undergraduate students is to network with your professors and take advantage of undergraduate research opportunities. For Iowa State University Department of Computer Science undergraduate students Roba Abbajabal [left] and Maxim Popov [right], taking COM S 192 provided the launching pad to do just that.

COM S 192 is a one-credit course that explores research opportunities for undergraduate students in Computer Science and teaches students the development of writing, presentation, and data reporting skills.

“In COM S 192, I got the opportunity to learn what research is from a variety of lectures from faculty and graduate students. Near the end of the course, I got to experience writing a practice research paper with my peers over a technology called Teachable Machine,” recalled Abbajabal. “I loved the class, I would highly recommend it for computer science students who have an interest in research.”

Overall, the course had two primary aspects. The first aspect was demonstrating to students what research could be like. The second aspect was having professors come in and present their research.  It allowed students to meet with different professors and help find mentors to help guide them in their careers. The course allowed students to develop a strong foundation to begin doing undergraduate research, such as for Abbajabal and Popov. Having faculty mentors who have aided them in their research has helped guide both Abbajabal and Popov with their careers.

“My mentor, Ying Cai, has been a great mentor, helping me through the project when I needed help but allowing me to still do the important work myself. He has given advice and assistance in the process of research, applications, presentations, paper writing, and general academic topics,” stated Popov. Popov works with Cai, a Professor of Computer Science, to improve the performance of a particular data structure designed to process queries on rank-aware data. His research interests lie in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Abbajabal has had a similar experience with his mentor, Wallapak Tavanapong, a Professor of Computer Science, researching using machine learning to quantify the number of hippocampal progenitor cells in a medical image dataset. “My mentor, Dr. Tavanapong, has had a huge impact on me in both my academics and my career goals. She taught me a lot about her area of research and provided me with many resources for learning the subject. I learned a lot through being her mentee, and I am really grateful for the impact and inspiration that she has had on my life.”

Because of their research experience, Abbajabal and Popov had the opportunity to present their research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. The National Conference on Undergraduate Research is an annual conference where undergraduate students present their research and learn more about other researchers such as themselves. The department was happy to help sponsor the students’ opportunity to attend the conference and hope more students follow in their footsteps.

“I had an amazing experience when attending the conference. During my presentation, I got to experience and grow in how to explain my research to attendees with varying levels of knowledge about my discipline. Outside of my own presentation, I got the chance to see many other presentations that were similar to my research, where they used machine learning for other tasks,” said Abbajabal. “What stood out the most to me was seeing many students from many universities and fields of study that were eager to talk about their research experiences.”

“I enjoyed the conference; there were a lot of interesting people and projects there,” added Popov.

"In our Computer Science department, we highly value undergraduate research as a vital and high-impact activity. It not only provides students with valuable opportunities to explore innovative ideas and technologies but also cultivates essential skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. We recognize that undergraduate research plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of our field, fostering a culture of innovation, and empowering students to make significant contributions to the ever-evolving world of Computer Science," said Dr. Hridesh Rajan, Professor and Department Chair.