SRP: The Quarantine Edition

by Shruti Chauhan '21 for Silver Quest

Senior Research Projects (SRPs) are one of the trademark experiences of the Blair Magnet. From studying organisms at a lab bench to engineering advanced machines, SRPs offer seniors a chance to scope out the diverse realm of research possibilities and pursue their passions. However, this year projects shared one major factor in common—they were nearly all conducted from home.

In March, amidst the cancellation of many internships due to the pandemic, the Magnet Foundation came to the rescue. Magnet Teacher and Research Coordinator Angelique Bosse said the foundation put out a call for alumni, parents, and connections interested in working with students remotely. “We were able to get quite a number of students to be doing internships, that wouldn't have had that opportunity,” Bosse noted.

Lara Ojha
The virtual SRP experience was a learning experience for all.  Senior Lara Ojha stressed the importance of communication, particularly asking questions unabashedly. Separated from her mentors at NASA, she highlighted the initial struggle she faced when deciding whether to ask a question about a program she was given. “I found myself getting very nervous...Did my mentor explain this and I just didn’t get it?” Ojha recalled. “It turned out, some of the questions I had, he had too, and some things in the program were just wrong.” She learned, like many others, that in an online environment it was important for her to ask questions when she was stuck to maximize both her learning and the output of her work.

Shariar Vaez-Ghaemi
Senior Shariar Vaez-Ghaemi also emphasized the importance of understanding what a field looks like virtually before committing to it. “If you're doing something in, for example, social science, like I was, make sure you like social science. But, make sure you're liking the statistics part of it too, because that's what most people do in social science research remotely,” he advised.

From a supervising perspective, Bosse believes one new skill promoted by the remote environment was independence. “Instead of meeting in person with somebody every day saying, here's what the plan for the day is and here's what you need to do, I think a lot of students had to create that for themselves,” she said.

Interestingly, another unforeseen impact of the pandemic was a reduced diversity in research fields. Only having access to a computer, projects were centered more heavily on statistics, data analysis, mathematics, and programming. While this caused a shift in expectations, Bosse says the computer science background seniors developed at Blair prepared them for this transition. “[Magnet seniors] have a lot of the skills that you need to pick up new languages or learn new software,” she said.

At the end of the summer, seniors came back to class (virtually, of course) and followed the regular routine of assembling their research papers, presentations, and posters. What differed significantly was the delivery of the presentations and even more so the inability to host a traditional SRP Magnet Convention. Instead, on Jan. 13, seniors presented to underclassmen in the Wednesday check-in slots. They also recorded videos to send to the Washington Academy of Sciences (in addition to other science fairs) for award review.

Ultimately, while the SRP experience looked unusual this year, the Magnet Class of ‘21 still learned a lot. And as the internship climate fluctuates with COVID, future classes working remotely can surely follow their lead.

Alumni who are interested in mentoring a senior research project should contact Ms. Bosse (Angelique_P_Bosse@mcpsmd.org)