Meaningful research and mentorship in an online internship

Meaningful research and mentorship in an online internship

MIT Open Learning

The MICRO program team shares findings in Matter

Image Credit: Nadzeya_Dzivakova on iStock, with minor adaptations

By Jessica Sandland, PhD, Lecturer and MITx Digital Learning Lab Scientist, MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering

In a new opinion paper published in Matter, Digital Learning Lab Scientist Jessica Sandland and her colleagues Cécile Chazot and Maxwell L’Etoile present an overview and initial findings from their program MICRO: an online undergraduate program to promote equitable access to research and education in materials science and engineering.

MICRO — the Materials Initiative for Comprehensive Research Opportunity — is an education and research program from MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) targeted at talented undergraduates from historically underrepresented groups. Specifically, MICRO aims to attract science and engineering undergraduates from universities other than MIT who have a strong interest in pursuing a doctorate or a research-based career in a materials-related field. The co-authors started the MICRO program in 2021, supported through the Jameel World Education Laboratory (J-WEL) and DMSE.

Read the MIT News story about MICRO’s inaugural year, “Fostering research and mentorship in materials science.”

In their paper, the co-authors demonstrate successful retention of key materials science and engineering (MS&E) knowledge and meaningful research contribution thanks to a combination of online lectures, remote research, and personalized mentoring. The MICRO online framework enables broad participation and flexibility, empowering the students to become independent and successful researchers in MS&E.

The MICRO program consists of a part-time research internship that takes place remotely during the academic semester. Participants work for 12 hours a week on a mentored research project within the field of Materials Science and Engineering. In addition to their research, participants engage with an introductory MS&E curriculum that aims to give them a basic overview of the field. Videos drawn from DMSE’s resources on MIT OpenCourseWare provide an introduction to crystallography, defects, and phase diagrams. Students deepen their knowledge by conducting a literature search of the MS&E literature relevant to their research project.

The MICRO interns also participate in professional skills development workshops and activities focused on technical writing and presentation, and they develop presentations for an end-of-semester meeting where they share their research with each other, their research mentors, and the MICRO program staff.

The mentoring component is a critical part of the MICRO program. Each MICRO participant is assigned a minimum of two mentors. A research mentor provides support for the intern’s research project, typically a graduate student or postdoc working in conjunction with a faculty member. The research mentor helps to define a research project appropriate to the intern’s interests and skills and meets regularly online with the intern to provide research direction and support. The intern is also assigned a MICRO program mentor, who provides support with professional skills, aiding with graduate and fellowship applications and reviewing presentations, and providing support for the challenges of learning and researching remotely.

The mentored research project is the central part of the MICRO program experience. This project gives the program interns the opportunity to participate in a meaningful research project that contributes to the work going on in laboratories around MIT. Because the project takes place remotely, this research typically consists of modeling, simulation, and/or data analysis. Critically, the project is not just a literature search or other similar task. Some examples of current second-semester interns’ projects include:

  • Jon-Edward Stokes (Howard University) is performing finite element analysis of lithium-ion batteries with a honeycomb-patterned carbon nanotube structure to optimize energy and power density.
  • Gabrielle Wood (Howard University) is combining solubility parameter calculations with experimental validation to evaluate potential green solvents for blended textile recycling.

Learn more about the MICRO program and the research the interns are conducting. You can also find educational resources and mentor training materials used in the program on MICRO’s page on MIT OpenCourseWare.

Meaningful research and mentorship in an online internship was originally published in MIT Open Learning on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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