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How to do Undergraduate Engineering Research?

  1. Sep 22, 2014 #1
    What should I research? By this I mean, what needs any researching in the first place?
    I'm interested in aerospace'aeronautic engineering particularly the areas of structures and aerodynamics. But how do I find out what specific area of it to research? I'm only in my second year of college as a Mechanical Engineering major so I don't know nearly enough to understand the technical details of what ought to be researched. Since engineering is very technical, doing research in the field likely requires strong technical competence which is likely to only be full developed for the undergraduate towards the end of his coursework.

    Simply put, how do I get started with research and learn to produce research that impresses graduate school committees?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2014 #2


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    Doing engineering requires strong technical competence and proficiency. Note what it takes to be a licensed professional engineer (PE).

    As for research, one can read any number of journals in various engineering disciplines, and even various disciplines of mechanical engineering.

    There is plenty of research in mechanics of materials, computational physics/mechanics, thermal physics (heat transfer), fluid mechanics/dynamics, . . . .


  4. Sep 23, 2014 #3
    Go on your schools database and try to find papers relevant to your field/interests. I try to read 1-2 papers a week if time allows. Learning a programming language is probably a good idea since it's a useful skill in many research groups.

    For undergrad I would try to read a variety of topics before trying to focus on one, you never know what you may find interesting. Talk to some professors in your department and see if they wouldn't mind letting you volunteer in their research group.

    I'm electrical/computer systems so I'm afraid I can't recommend interesting topics in mechanical.
  5. Sep 24, 2014 #4
    I think I'll try to learn Matlab since that seems to be a very important software that Aerospace Engineers use.

    I'll also take up your suggestion of reading a paper or two a week. That sounds like a good way to dive deep into it and gradually learn some of the stuff.
  6. Sep 24, 2014 #5


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    As a second year you're way too early on in your career to have a feel for what "needs any researching" or what your strengths are. You need to do a long apprenticeship under the advisement of a professor. What classes have you enjoyed? What research interests in your professor's biographies sound interesting? Go around to their offices and ask if they have any projects for undergrads. If you're lucky you can get some time running simulations or checking code for grad students. Slowly you'll learn what your interests are and you can pursue them in grad school.

    Grad school committees like good grades and initiative. Look into the SULI program for the DOE to get involved in summer research at a National Lab. There usually aren't too many engineering applicants so your chance of getting an appointment are good.

    I disagree you should be reading a lot of papers. As a second year you haven't even learned the vocabulary of the state-of-the-art in Mechanical Engineering and it will be impossible to understand, much less place into context, any papers you read. If you dive too deep before you learn to hold your breath you'll drown.

    Do the best you can in your courses and try reading an alternate textbook for your more challenging courses in addition to the textbook assigned. Different textbooks have different approaches and reading multiple ones can give you more insight.
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