Every June the honorable Vice Chancellor of our university, Prof. Rupamanjari Ghosh, dares us SNUites to challenge ourselves. The mail begins with “IMPORTANT”, a suitable disclaimer, because fortunate few who accept this challenge actually live to complete it. I may or may not be exaggerating.
Opportunities for Undergraduate Research (OUR) is a program exclusive to Shiv Nadar University although it stands amongst the likes of research programs such as VSRP* by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research or SURGE* by IIT-Kanpur. The difference? OUR spreads itself across two semesters with research funding** as high as 30,000 rupees and an opportunity to present your findings to a panel of distinguished judges (sometimes from other institutes too)! By the end of this 8 months’ run from August to May of next year, a student with an OUR in his/her belt is likely to have enjoyed more than a few moments of satisfaction. The number of hours, discussions, planning and effort involved in executing a project as big as this focused research is incomparable to all the tiny stints of academic projects we are regularly doled out with. On a personal note, research in itself has taught me the importance of being patient, with both my work and life outside it.
It begins in August, right after our summer break. A hardworking bunch of students-or rather, better informed-have already chosen their guides and discussed the abstract of their projects. Since OUR does not fence you to your subject of major, you may very well contact a professor who shares your interests and not your classes. I speak from experience#. The necessary criteria for checking this tick-box is a CGPA>6.5, student>Fresher and a nod from your mentor. It is okay if you aren’t clear about the procedure or protocol you need to follow, but you must have an idea of what you want to theorize or develop.
September will be over in a blink. You will find yourself juggling time between studying for mid-sem exams and fulfilling other academic commitments. Although it is not okay to be compromising your project, do not lose contact with your guide. It is pertinent for both your own satisfaction and your guide to be maintaining a log of your activities related to the OUR so they can keep track of your progress.
October may tempt you to take that one week break after the examinations back home but take care of how you manage time. At this point, you only have 6 more months to go-and yes that is a short time. Also note that the money for your project will be refunded only at the end of the OUR so till May next year, you may be shelling out of your own wallet. Save every receipt and ask shopkeepers to write you a cash memo if they cannot provide you a printed invoice (if your project at all requires you to visit markets). Bottomline, keep a track of your bills.
November and December are the best months to pace your work. Your classes will get over just in time for the Noida smog to restrict your outings so you can pay attention to your work in the laboratories or your mentor’s cabin. Keep discussing. The more you ask, the more you’ll get to explore. It is paramount for the scope of discovery to SHARE what you know. An advantage of this initiative is that you’ll get to work with dedicated PhD students in their field of expertise. While you complete your own, these senior students in the lab will help you get accustomed to the world of research, literature reviews and planning future moves. You can talk about studying abroad, getting a job, applying for a post, and academic-related stuff they recommend you do while you still have time. You never know if giving an exam early on may set your profile apart from rest of the competition.
January, February & March will not give much scope for fresh air. The first week of this New Year will be graced by a reminder from Karthik Krishnan sir to submit your mid-term OUR report. You have to simply attest documents as proof of the work you’ve been able to complete in this time and continue hustling harder. However, if you feel by February that much of your OUR work remains undone, you may want to consider working overtime. Most universities will be having a cultural fest at this time and the onset of festivals will be imminent distractors. While working on my Design project, I used to pester the lab in-charge to let me work until 6pm since my classes got over at 5pm and I managed to do some part of my project daily. On most days I used to talk to my mentor about my progress and then head to the lab, asking the lab assistants to help me refine the prototypes.
April will be, if you are a Junior, a deadline a day. Week after week your teachers will demand submissions and tests. It is brutal and adrenaline pumping at the same time. Do note, many a students may have dropped, halted or stalled at an uncrossable stage in their OURs at this time. You may not even be aware of it, as you shouldn’t. Be vigilant about your work and you’ll see yourself becoming better at managing time. Evening snacks and Night mess may replace your normal BLD cycle very quickly and seamlessly.
Come May , your end semester exams will give you less than a week to prepare your final presentation and report. You may want to have enough pictures and proof of work as content in your slides so you feel confident when you present your findings to the jury. D217 will be aflush with students from various departments who have completed their projects to a satisfactory level, but everyone will be equally nervous! Tips: dress well and look forward to free snacks during breaks in the presentations. The judges will not be harsh, they just want to test what you learnt from your OUR. A general background knowledge addressing How, Where, Why and What may be beneficial for your answers at the time of questioning. Once you’re done, an unfathomable sense of satisfaction and pride is a given!
Your submission of presentation and final report is a chance for you to get selected among the top three projects in OUR (regardless of department) that year. Cash prizes are in the order 10K, 7.5K and 5K rupees. Do note that certificates given to the rest of the participants are not in vain. They are subdivided into three categories: Good, Very Good and Excellent. The latter category receives an exclusive invitation to a Masters + PhD degree program in SNU at huge discounts and rewards. It is truly overwhelming.
In conclusion, doing an OUR takes you for a roller-coaster ride but it challenges you to become the best dedicated and responsible version of yourself. Plus, the benefit of contacts, behind-the-scenes shenanigans and experiences you’ll walk away with cannot be described with mere words. It is all worth the trouble.
OUR does not add to your academic credits, it is a completely separate exercise.
The bills you’ve collected till this date have to be submitted at the finance department desk before the fiscal year is over-i.e., the university closes for the summer. This subtle deadline is also quite IMPORTANT!
The registration for the 5th OUR conference is currently open (till 10 August 2018), for which you may head over to https://our.webapps.snu.edu.in/public/ and easily apply.
Here are some testimonials from a few people who successfully finished their OUR projects and achieved something fruitful by the end of it:
*VSRP (Visiting Students’ Research Program)
SURGE (Students-Undergraduate Research & Graduate program)
**subject to decision by Vice Chancellor-also the Dean of Research
#Both my OUR projects have been outside of my major-Computer Science (Arts & Design, Biotechnology)
Special thanks to Chaitra Shree US, Neeraj Shetye, Niharika CNR, Jaskaran Saini, Bhavya