DURF Works Well at NYU Shanghai

Jul 15 2015

For most college students, a three month long summer break typically entails exotic vacations and long do-nothing days.  However, students at NYU Shanghai are pushing themselves towards productivity with internships, study away trips and on or off campus research endeavors.

The Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund (DURF) awards funding to undergraduates at NYU Shanghai for eight full-time weeks of summer research in any field of study. It’s the perfect opportunity for an amalgamation of student interest and academic background. Though the students consult regularly with their professor as a guided mentor, they have ultimate control of what is produced.

Over the course of the summer, students are pouring themselves into projects that involve everything from robotics, feminine beauty standards, intercultural communication, to identifying recurrent gene mutations, machine learning and machine translation.

Sophomore students Marissa Moreno and Ronak Trivedi are two DURF participants, devoting their break and beyond to an ambitious project: “Developing an Interactive Learning Simulation for Use in the Classroom to Consolidate the Concept of Neural Networks,” with Professor Jeffrey Erlich as their research mentor.

Development of the project proposal began circa March 2015, and continues to evolve as the students engross themselves in self-motivated, cross-disciplinary research, building their knowledge base and implementing concepts they’ve taken from the variety of their courses. They foresee it as a long-term project, and are not deterred by unexpected complications.

“Right now we’re trying to combine two basic models of neural networks,” Moreno says, mentioning models from Xiao-Jing Wang and Joshua Gold. “If we can combine them, then it’s a matter of how we can turn this into a game that teaches students about the bigger picture.”

Willing to dedicate their junior and senior year to this project, Moreno and Trivedi realize the stemming potential of publishing their research depending on the outcome of their project.

The ultimate goal? “There’s a real possibility it can eventually be used by in the classroom by students,” Trivedi says.

The team of two explains that DURF works well at NYU Shanghai because of the close student-professor bond. While the old notion of student research opportunity boils down to supporting a professor’s research endeavors, they value the direct interaction with their mentor, who guides them in working with their own ideas. They’ve also gained a networking space and sense of belonging in his lab, where they observe the importance of interdisciplinary study, as neuroscience, computer science and psychology are interweaved.

“I know if I ever need help I can reach out to these people. I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity otherwise,” reflects Moreno.

There is a huge role-shift as students begin visualizing themselves as the researchers they are becoming, gaining direct experience in the field of their study to make their time and effort at the University most meaningful. 

Written by Charlotte San Juan, photos by Ronak Trivedi