Challenge and Change During My Research Internship

An illuminated lightbulbWritten by: Armin Mahboubi, 2nd Year Aviation Management

Photo Credits: Canva

As students, we generally feel our responsibility is to only learn new material, but I always believed that a post-secondary student also has the responsibility to expand the basis of humanity's understanding of the universe in the academic community. I was curious to learn and explore the behind-the-scenes of research and how academics go about conducting such tasks. I was both honored and humbled to receive the Undergraduate Student Research Internship (USRI) at Western while finishing my first-year of studies. 

With the arrival of the pandemic, my tasks shifted fully online, and no one expected the situation to last all summer, but it unfortunately did. However, when faced with adversity, one must rise to the occasion and do the best one can achieve. By shifting online, I had to complete tasks virtually, so I was tasked with organizing and analyzing data, while I was also given the responsibility of finding and reviewing relevant research papers pertaining to my supervisor's academic expertise. As an undergraduate student just about to finish first-year, I was faced with a huge challenge: I had to quickly gain new knowledge to be able to start my tasks. So, I was tasked with reading the first few chapters of a five-hundred page eBook that was vital for my success in the programme. I quickly realized that when it comes to research, passion and curiosity are probably the two most important prerequisites for success, and that was a meaningful and eye-opening discovery for me. Thankfully, I was extremely interested in my supervisor's area of expertise. Dr. Voogt, the Department Chair in the Department of Geography at Western, specializes in the area of urban climatology and the importance of surfaces in affecting metropolitan weather and climate.

Further in the programme, one the most challenges experiences I had was to import, organize and analyze large sets of raw data in Microsoft Excel regarding one of the projects my supervisor did a few months ago. I have never had such an experience, but this made me realize and appreciate the hard work of researchers and the work ethics needed to complete research projects. As students, we take so much for granted, and this responsibility made me more humble and appreciative. Later in my USRI experience, I was tasked with finding and reviewing relevant research papers. I had to access academic journal databases and use advanced search techniques to find papers pertaining to the surface urban heat island effect, which is the quantitative analysis of an urban area's different surfaces and how they cause significant warming in the vicinity of cities. I thought it would be a simple and effortless task, but I soon realized it was completely different than a simple search; I had to strategically use advanced search to filter out irrelevant papers, and that required both extensive learning and a critical mind. This made this experience both rewarding yet challenging, and sometimes frustrating. Searching through literally thousands of research journals requires extensive perseverance and focusLastly, another enlightening experience within my USRI was having to participate by observing the defense presentation of my supervisor's Master's student. My undergraduate experience fueled my passion for pursuing a Master's degree, and this experience allowed me to familiarize myself with the process of preparing and organizing a defense presentation.

Another major theme in my experience was the importance of mentorship. When we think of mentorship, we immediately think of the mentor and rarely the mentee. I also believed that a successful mentorship only requires the presence of a good mentor, and although it is true, this USRI experience taught me that the mentee plays as much of an important role as the mentor. I expected more input from my supervisor, but I quickly realized that I have to reach for assistance. As a mentee, I had to initiate the conversations by asking questions and remaining attentive, so I could therefore be better guided while completing my tasks. My supervisor also trusted my work and analysis even though he did not personally know me, which was an enlightening moment. I realized that as long as the mentee is eager enough to receive information and have an open mind, the role of a mentor becomes both rewarding and beneficial. In addition, I previously believed that a mentor-mentee relationship must be very one-sided when it comes to communication. Unfortunately as students, we have learned to blindly take information in without critically thinking, but this experience not only encouraged, but also empowered me to trust my wisdom and judgement. My supervisor pushed me to provide feedback and pose questions to the presenter after the defense presentation. 

As a result of this, I learned to take these lessons and apply them to my own student learning as an undergraduate student. I also realized that a mentorship experience is more subtle; my supervisor simply created a platform for me to independently learn and complete tasks, while being available when needed. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic created many obstacles and challenges during my USRI experience, it reiterated the fact that the power of mentorship, when executed correctly, can still guide individuals and empower them to reach their goals.  

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