Carnegie Mellon University

Summer Seminar Series

Throughout the summer we hold a weekly seminar series designed to expose REU students to a broad range of topics. Each session lasts 80-120 minutes and is usually subdivided in two, three, or four subtopics. The series consists primarily of four types of topics: lectures on research skills, panels on graduate life, traditional research talks, and REU student presentations. Because this series is scheduled to extend our regular academic-year seminar series, active participation from our faculty and graduate students is a departmental norm, providing another means through which the REU students are exposed to a dynamic, collaborative research environment.

Research Skills Lectures

At the beginning of the summer, the series focuses on interactive lectures about research skills. The main educational goal of these lectures is to expose students to all the major phases of the research process and to teach them to execute each phase effectively. The phases we emphasize are (expected lecturer in parentheses):

  • Reading research papers (Mary Shaw)
  • Applying a research method (Jonathan Aldrich)
  • Formulating contributions and claims (Joshua Sunshine)
  • Validating research claims (Jim Herbsleb)
  • Writing a research paper (Claire Le Goues)
  • Presenting research results (Christian Kästner)

These lectures are often accompanied by short readings and the lessons are emphasized outside of the seminar via direct mentorship within the context of each student’s project.

Graduate Life Panels

Three times during the summer we invite Ph.D. students to be on a panel to discuss a specific element of the Ph.D. program:

  • Applying to graduate school
  • Adjusting to graduate studies and research
  • The thesis process

We find that REU students enjoy hearing directly from graduate students, and internalize the lessons because they come from approximate peers. These panels also catalyze further interaction between graduate and REU students.

Research Talks

In the middle of the summer, the faculty, visiting faculty, and graduate students give traditional research talks. We select these talks to ensure that they are diverse in content, of high quality, and inspirational to undergraduates students. We also select for stylistic diversity. For example:

  • The most recent faculty hire gives his or her job talk (Claire Le Goues spoke in 2015).
  • A senior faculty member gives a keynote-style talk on the history of a field (David Garlan lectured on the history of software architecture in 2015).
  • A student gives a tool demonstration or tutorial style talk.
  • A junior faculty member talks about emerging work or a research proposal.
  • A student gives a traditional conference-style talk about complete research.

The diversity of style exposes students to a wide swath of research life—from faculty job searching to proposing new research—and from idea formation to maturation.