What advice do you have for undergraduates who are just starting out in research?It may seem intimidating at first, but undergraduate research is the best way to get the most out of your undergraduate academic experience. You can learn so much from a faculty adviser, and research looks amazing on any resume or application. It just takes some time to learn the technical background, and there are always plenty of sources to learn from even if you haven't had a class on it. Just always have clear, set goals in mind and eventually you will get to the new and interesting stuff.
Doss, C.E.; Komar, C.M.; Cassak, P.A.; Wilder, F.D.; Eriksson, S.; Drake, J.F. Asymmetric magnetic reconnection with a flow shear and applications to the magnetopause. J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 2015, 120, [Online early access]. DOI: 10.1002/2015JA021489.
What are your current plans/career goals beyond the undergraduate?
I plan on continuing my education into graduate school for Physics. I want to pursue a doctorate degree, and from there anything goes I suppose.
How long have you been involved in undergraduate research?
I have been involved with my current research since the summer before my junior year.
Why did you choose get involved in undergraduate research?
My older brothers (previous Physics majors from WVU) recommended undergraduate research as a way to stand out of the crowd and get experience in research before graduate school.
How did you find/connect with your first faculty research adviser?
I had a class with Dr. Cassak, and once he briefly discussed his research in class. I was interested in using supercomputer simulations for Physics research, so the following summer I sent him an email asking if he would let me work with his group. After meeting with Dr. Cassak, he agreed to let me on board and gave me a research problem to work on.
What is your current research?
I run supercomputer simulations of plasmas to study magnetic reconnection. This is when oppositely pointing magnetic fields break and reconnect with each other, converting magnetic energy of the fields into the kinetic energy of the plasma being expelled due to this process. Magnetic reconnection is important for studying solar flares, crashes in fusion reactors, and space weather around Earth. In particular, I am looking at what effects the solar wind has when magnetic reconnection occurs around Earth: how fast reconnection occurs and how the location moves depending on the magnetic field strengths, plasma densities, and solar wind speeds. Large-scale simulations allow us to run many possible configurations and test our predictions.
What skills have you learned by doing research that you would not have learned otherwise (i.e., from lecture alone)?
A lot of what I've learned can be broadly grouped into communication skills. For instance, how to discuss research with my research adviser, graduate students, friends, and my physicist parents; how to read and get information from scientific papers; how to prepare and present a poster to people with varying knowledge in the field; how to write technical papers about your research to other experts in the field; how to best record data over many months; and the wonders of writing documented and well-organized code. Apart from communication skills, I have become much better at time management and data analysis.