Students in the GES department have the ability to pick their own advisor. When I saw that there was a professor, Dr. Matt Baker, who shared both my research interests and name, I knew that’s who I was going for! A watershed science class with Dr. Baker during freshman year confirmed for me that I wanted to work with him.
How did you know that this was the project you wanted to do?
There were a few things that drew me directly to this project. First of all, I have recently become interested in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology for the purposes of mapping and analysis. Second, this project is a study of local watershed data from Maryland, DC, etc. I have lived in Baltimore all of my life and have a natural attachment to the area. Finally, I have always enjoyed hydrology and watershed analysis. Sounds crazy, right? It grew from playing in streams as a kid at summer camp and developed into a love and passion for the mechanics of water flow, the beauty of the biota, etc. The fact that I am able to combine all of these interests into one research project is reason enough to be excited!
Is this your first independent research?
This is not my first independent research project. I worked with Dr. Baker in my freshman and sophomore years on other watershed analysis projects.
Do you get course credit for this work? How much time do you put into it?
I did not get course credit for this work, but that is not what it’s about in the end! The amount of time I spend working on this depends upon where I am in the project. A lot of the work is coding in a statistics program language called ‘R.’ Some of the tasks that I need to accomplish use simple codes that I am able to figure out pretty quickly, so the work only takes me a few hours that week. Other weeks, I am packing every hour of my free time into figuring out a code that is more complicated than the aforementioned, or that I haven’t worked with before. These tend to take WAY more time than the codes from the easy weeks!
How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
My advisor, Dr. Baker, suggested the program to me. Since I had worked with him in the past, he recommended that I apply for the URA and come back to work with him in hopes that we could knock out another project.
What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
I currently am an Environmental Science and Mechanical Engineering double major. Since UMBC doesn’t have a Civil Engineering program for undergraduates (or didn’t when I started here), I have been forging my own program using classes from my two majors. I started as an Environmental Science and Math double major, but quickly realized that I needed a stronger engineering background and made the change to Mechanical Engineering.
Was the application difficult to do?
Not at all! The URA application is made to be very straightforward for students and mentors. If you are thinking about applying, definitely don’t let the application trouble you!
How much did your mentor help you with the application?
Because this is a fairly new project for me, Dr. Baker worked with me to carefully craft my abstract so that it focuses exactly on what I already have, and what I hope to accomplish for this project.
What has been the hardest part about your research?
The hardest part of my research, hands down, has been learning to code in ‘R.’ Prior to working with Dr. Baker, I had never written a line of code in my life. When he introduced me to ‘R,’ I was beyond lost. I had no idea what I was doing. I started with simple things like getting a count of the number of columns in a spreadsheet, but only after I figured out how to load that spreadsheet into the program itself! With a lot of practice, experimentation, and help files, I have been able to gain a much better understanding of the language.
How does your research relate to your work in other classes?
My research relates directly to most of my Environmental Science studies and even to parts of my Mechanical Engineering studies. I have been taking a lot of hydrology and GIS classes in the GES department, both of which are directly connected to my research. In the Mechanical Engineering department, I have taken statics and dynamics and am getting into fluid mechanics, all of which help me to better understand the flow quantity aspect of my research.
What else are you involved in on campus?
Prior to this year, I was a member of SEB, Pi Kappa Phi, club soccer and volleyball, and a few other things. I am still a part of both club soccer and Pi Kappa Phi, and will also be a TF for statics starting this fall.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
By all means, if you have an interest in it, GO FOR IT! The faculty at UMBC is committed to helping students get involved in projects that are both relevant to their interests and groundbreaking in their respective field. We have an amazing opportunity at UMBC and it would be foolish not to act on it if it is something in which you hold a genuine interest.
What are your career goals?
I would like to continue my work with hydrology and/or GIS. I am not sure if I will work for the government, work in the private sector, teach younger students, or where I will end up. The dream for me would be to work in Colorado or some other cool place for a few years as a hydrologist and watershed analyst and then to switch over to teaching high school Environmental Science and/or Engineering.
Read more about Matthew's research by visiting the link below...