3/07/2022 Alicia Morrissey

Why Research? It Teaches You More Than You Think

Students at Franklin & Marshall College embark on research projects expecting to dive deeper into their field, work side-by-side with passionate professors, and add an impressive feat to their resume. While they do get these experiences, students gain much more than they anticipate. 

Two F&M students and a recent graduate shared the surprise lessons they learned while researching mobile security alongside Assistant Professor of Computer Science Ed Novak. Discover what they learned, and hear the advice they have for students looking for research opportunities at F&M. 

  • F&M President Barbara Altmann comments on Saad Mahboob's research poster, which was part of the 2021 Summer Experience Fair in October. F&M President Barbara Altmann comments on Saad Mahboob's research poster, which was part of the 2021 Summer Experience Fair in October. Image Credit: Ed Novak
  • Saad Mahboob ’22 and Ed Novak, assistant professor of computer science. Saad Mahboob ’22 and Ed Novak, assistant professor of computer science. Image Credit: Saad Mahboob ’22
  • Saad Mahboob ’22 Saad Mahboob ’22 Image Credit: Saad Mahboob ’22

Saad Mahboob ’22 Learned Key Problem-Solving Skills

After completing an independent study researching socially assistive robots with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Willie Wilson, senior Saad Mahboob turned his sights to mobile security when he began a research project with Novak. 

Mahboob, a business, organizations and society and computer science double major, said the experience polished his problem-solving skills and taught him how to untangle complex issues. Some weeks, Mahboob said, the code works fine then, “some weeks everything is broken.”

“The key is not to make random guesses and fix what's broken,” he said. “Instead, you should be able to understand what led to the bug in the first place so it can be avoided in the future. I have learned that even the smallest one-line bug has a lot to learn from, so rather than being discouraged, use the opportunity to learn.”

Mahboob encouraged students interested in research to simply go looking for it.

“During the process, you might have to randomly email a professor or knock on their door during office hours, but don’t hesitate to talk about how your research interests are in line with theirs,” he said.

  • Muhammad Shaamyl Anwar '23 discusses an algorithm to track implicit information flow using byte-code instrumentation. Muhammad Shaamyl Anwar '23 discusses an algorithm to track implicit information flow using byte-code instrumentation. Image Credit: Ed Novak
  • Shaamyl Anwar ’23 Shaamyl Anwar ’23 Image Credit: Shaamyl Anwar ’23

Muhammad Shaamyl Anwar ’23 Appreciated Unanswered Questions

In his first year at F&M, junior Muhammad Shaamyl Anwar already knew he was interested in learning computer science in a deeper way. In the fall semester of his sophomore year, the computer science and mathematics double major got his chance by joining Novak’s research in mobile security. 

“Through being involved in this research, I was exposed to the skill of asking and exploring unanswered questions,” Anwar said. “At the end of the exploration, you may or may not arrive at an answer, but you will discover completely new, exciting, complex truths. This idea of exploring unanswered questions and discovering truths has made me seriously consider grad school when, before college, I had no idea what grad school was.” 

Anwar added that students shouldn’t be afraid of approaching their professors and asking if they’re doing any research and what they should learn if they want to be involved. 

“Professors love to talk about their interests with curious students,” he said.

  • Thu Do '21 describes findings in her research to computer scientist Prof. Ed Novak in his research lab. Thu Do '21 describes findings in her research to computer scientist Prof. Ed Novak in his research lab. Image Credit: Deb Grove

Thu Do ’21 Gained an Indispensable Skill

Recent graduate Thu Do ’21 wanted to do independent research because she believed it not only would extend her knowledge and skills, but also give her a great opportunity to apply what she learned in class to real-life situations. The mathematics and computer science graduate put her theory to the test—and proved herself right—after taking a class with Novak and later joining his research in mobile security. 

“I think a valuable skill I learned throughout the research is how to approach a problem,” she said. 

During research, she and her research partner, recent graduate Phyo Thuta Aung ’21, were faced with multiple obstacles. With Novak guiding them, the two learned how to find possible solutions, weigh their pros and cons, rank them accordingly, and try them out to find the right solution. 

“Being able to navigate through challenges is an indispensable skill in a career path or graduate studies,” she said.

For those interested in finding research opportunities, Do said, “Do not hesitate to ask your professors if they’re working on any projects that you might be interested in.” 

Student Research at F&M

The cornerstone of the educational experience we offer is students working side-by-side with faculty who want to help you test ideas—not just talk or read about them. These are not experiences you have to wait until graduate school to pursue. It's a core part of what we do. 

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