While many students spent their summer working, traveling, or catching Pokémon, Nathan Sparks and Jared Ribail, two Washington State University civil engineering students, got a taste of the world of research through WSU’s summer research program.

Jared Ribail poses next to his summer research poster.
Jared Ribail

Nathan Sparks poses next to his summer research poster.
Nathan Sparks

Diving headlong into the high-level research, Sparks had a chance to study carbon dioxide flux and the surface energy budget in rural and urban environments while Ribail worked with hydrologic models.

WSU offers research experience for about 100 undergraduates every summer in areas ranging from air and water quality to materials engineering. Working on real research with professors is exciting—and stressful—as the students learn about and then present their research in a few short weeks.

“It was intimidating [working so closely with professors and graduate students]. I was going into their world, and I didn’t know anything,” said Sparks. “But I got past it. You just have to ask for help.”

Unlike classes where there is often a right answer, the program introduces students to the messy world of research, in which they have to ask the question themselves, and the answers are often unclear.

“I learned what it takes to be a good grad student, how to manage working on many projects, and staying on task,” said Ribail, who was participating in his second undergraduate research project. “[Doing research over the summer] is a great opportunity to see if research is for you. It exposes you to the research lifestyle.”

“The common misconception is ‘it’s too hard to do,’” he added. “It’s not too hard, but there is a learning curve.”

Learn more about summer research opportunities at Washington State University.

Pictured at top: REU Students Nathan Sparks and Brandon Daub.