Featured Researcher: Tabitha Oanda

Tabitha Oanda (CAS’ 22) is a computer science major. She conducted research this summer with Professor Economo (ENG, Biomedical Engineering). 

How did you get involved with research at BU? In the Fall of 2019 I volunteered at a computer vision lab in the Computer Science Department and in the Spring of 2020,  I applied for a UROP grant to do research at a Biomedical Engineering Lab.

How did you meet your mentor? I met my mentor at a National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) networking event. I was looking for an opportunity to use machine learning to solve real-world problems and he and his team were looking for undergrads to join the team.

What has your UROP experience taught you? My UROP experience taught me that some of the most interesting work is done by cross-disciplinary labs. One unique aspect of the lab this summer was that all the students had varying levels of expertise in Neuroscience, Engineering, and Computer Science knowledge. What drew us together was the main goal: “Understanding how brain activity affects animal behavior”. What I found fascinating was the different ways in which we utilized our different skills and interests to try and answer this question.

Has this experience helped you with non-research related things at BU? Yes. Besides gaining some new friends at the lab, I got to discuss career options with my mentor. As a rising junior in college, I wanted to have a better understanding of whether or not graduate school was something I wanted to pursue. My mentor helped me understand the dynamics of graduate life as well as the pros/cons of attaining a graduate degree immediately after my undergraduate studies. My time at the lab allowed me to interact with and observe a lot of the graduate students whose hard work and determination really inspired me. I’m still unsure of my decision to go to grad school right after graduation but I do have a broader perspective at the moment.

What does a day in your research life look like? It’s hard to say what a normal day would look like because they were all quite different. I’d meet with my mentor twice a week and we would discuss my progress on the set tasks we had agreed on. We would also discuss some of the new concepts that I learned in the journal club as well as in my own research. An average day would involve doing some background research on some of the tasks that I needed to fulfill. This could involve reading a paper, a few machine learning blog posts or even watching a few YouTube tutorials in order to get some intuition. Thereafter, I would try and execute what I had just learned. In addition to my computer science-related work, I tried to read a bit more on Neuroscience in order to understand the bigger picture of the work we did at the lab. Besides the normal research work, the team at the lab would have frequent informal catch-up meetings or fun virtual activities (Pictionary).

What advice would you give to a student looking to get involved with research at BU?

I’d say that a great first step would be to speak with the professors of your current classes. BU is a leading research university so there’s a high probability that your professor has a lab and that they have some capacity to take you in. I’d also add that no one should feel like they don’t know enough to join a lab or that their grade level discredits them somehow. I learned over the past year that if you’re a determined student who is willing to put in the work and learn from those around you, then you can and will be of great benefit to any lab at BU. Finally, I’d say be open to possibilities. Students could learn a lot from labs outside of their departments if the labs are cross-disciplinary; don’t confine yourself to your major.