University of Texas at Austin


From Theory To Practice: Moncrief Fellowship at Oden Institute Gives Prospective Postgraduate Students Glimpse of Life in the Lab

Published Feb. 10, 2020

Computational Engineering and Mathematics student Jennifer Zvonek isn’t afraid of trying new things. During her time as an undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin, the 22-year-old native Austinite switched majors a few times after being inspired by the wonders of physics, then mathematics, computer programming, as well as robotics and machine learning.

Despite having the curiosity and critical thinking skills necessary for any aspiring scientist, engineer, or mathematician, having many interests can make choosing postgraduate studies a little daunting, especially for someone as talented and curious as Zvonek.

To help make a decision, she applied for an internship with the Moncrief Fellowship at the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and spent last summer working on research projects with real-world applications.

The Moncrief Undergraduate Summer Internship Program provides qualified undergraduate students of math, science, and engineering with an opportunity to experience life at one of the world’s leading computational engineering and science research institutes.

Interns work with faculty and research staff from one of 24 research centers and groups— there is no shortage of projects to choose from. Previous interns have worked on projects developing new models and simulation techniques for energy, advanced materials, biomedical research, nanomanufacturing, fluid mechanics, biology. The list goes on.

“The Oden Institute is great,” Zvonek says. “The research is amazing, the people are friendly, and everyone is super helpful.” Unsurprisingly, Zvonek delved into uncharted waters at the Institute, opting to work with a team of experts in autonomous systems under the supervision of Ufuk Topcu, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of computational engineering.

“I had never done anything related to robotics before so it was all new and very exciting to me,” she said. “We were focused specifically on deep reinforcement learning, or how to ensure robots could successfully complete assigned tasks.”

Aside from learning and actively working in a new field, Zvonek says the most valuable experience gained from participation in the internship was the opportunity to get a feel for postgraduate life.

“It was kind of like grad school lite,” she says. “The biggest lesson I learned was just how essential active research is at this level. You’re in the lab way more than the classroom, a big difference from the undergraduate level. I wouldn’t have known this had I not seen it first hand at the Oden Institute.”

Jennifer recommends that other students who are unsure as to their next step after graduation consider doing an internship like this. “If you’re still on the fence about what to do next, it’s definitely worth exploring any internship options available,” she stresses. “Not only did I learn so much from it, I also had tons of fun, too. However, I can’t guarantee other university internships will be as good as this one offered by the Oden Institute.”

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