Early opportunities to build research experience

Riki McDaniel is a Department of Materials Science and Engineering pre-junior currently on co-op abroad in South Korea, researching polymer-MXene composites at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).

McDaniels presenting
Riki McDaniel introducing his research topic to Dr. Chi Won Ahn's research group at KAIST-NNFC

Before I came to Drexel, I didn't know that materials science and engineering was a field of study and only learned about the department during my first week in school. Two months later, I was a member of a polymers laboratory, working shoulder-to-shoulder with PhD students as I learned how to set up reactions. At the time, I was a complete novice. However, I knew coming in that I wanted to give research a try to see whether or not the work was a good fit for me.

By diving in right away, I put myself in a position where I had to learn quickly. Two years out, I've been lucky enough to perform full-time research over the summer through Drexel's Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) program, present my work at on-campus symposiums, and coauthor publications with graduate students. Undergraduate research is flexible, too; as I have gotten more involved in research, I have transitioned between research groups at Drexel, and have collaborated with other labs on joint projects. Now, I'm continuing my work in Seoul, South Korea, through a collaboration between KIST and two research groups in Drexel's MSE department.

co-op students in Korea
Drexel Materials Prof. Yury Gogotsi, co-op students Kateryna Shevchuk and Pavel Lelyukh, Dr. Chi Won Ahn, and co-op students Jeremy Pitock and Riki McDaniel in South Korea

Classes and research go hand-in-hand. I have often found myself thinking about my research while sitting in lecture, trying to establish connections between class topics and my latest experiments. I've discovered that research makes the toughest classes less intimidating by bringing stuffy and abstract theories back down to earth. It can make subjects like organic chemistry approachable, or even enjoyable!

I didn't come into Drexel's engineering program with specific interests when I started my degree, but I now count myself extremely fortunate to have found Drexel Materials. Like Drexel as a whole, this department has countless opportunities available for its undergraduates. The tools are all here! It's up to each of us to do the legwork and make great things happen.

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