Finding engineering or science related jobs after just one year of engineering is quite difficult for most students, but Jennifer Erskine and George Warburton got lucky. Near the beginning of second term in 2011, chemistry Professor William Newstead sent an email to all of his first year engineering students about a unique opportunity. Professor Simon Hesp had asked Professor Newstead to reach out to the first years for an opportunity to have a summer position in his lab. Professor Hesp has been hiring undergraduate students since 1999 when he hired Todd Hoare, now a professor at McMaster, straight out of first year.
"Following Todd, I have been fortunate to hire quite a number of equally gifted students." For the summer of 2011, George and Jennifer were two of those students.
Both George and Jennifer took the job with Professor Hesp with the prospect of working in a lab and learning about the research process. Professor Hesp's lab focuses mainly on asphalt, which according to Hesp, "is not easily sold as an interesting topic to upper year students."
"I go where I can get the best students and first years are usually more open to do different types of research so this has worked very well for me."
Both George and Jennifer worked on asphalt cement research over the summer. George used a Bending Beam Rheometer (BBR) to measure how cold temperatures affect the rheological flow properties of the material. Jennifer worked with a Dynamic Shear Rheometer (DSR) which measures the how stiff and solid a sample is under oscillations imposed by the machine and meant to mimic traffic loading.
"My favourite part of the summer was when I got to work on my "side project", which involved investigating gel points and gel temperatures of asphalt cements." said Jennifer of her "own mini research project," "The project was a really amazing look into the research process; I got to do all the background research on the topic, design a test protocol, refine the test protocol, and write some Matlab code to analyze the results."
A rewarding conclusion to their research, George and Jennifer had the privilege of accompanying Professor Hesp to Peru to present their findings at the XIII CONGRESO NACIONAL DEL ASFALTO and do some sightseeing on the side including Lima and Machu Picchu in October 2011.
Attending a conference with primarily Spanish speakers was a challenge for both George and Jennifer. George, not knowing any Spanish, had to give his presentation with the help of a translator while Jennifer gave hers in Spanish.
"Professor Hesp knew that I speak a small amount of Spanish (and I really do mean small), and he asked me if I would give my presentation in Spanish." They each had 20 minutes to give their presentations and would not have had enough time to do both with translators.
George and Jennifer took a lot away from their experience working for Professor Hesp. Working in the hands-on lab environment allowed them to experience real lab work way before most under graduate students get this kind of opportunity.
¬†Both George and Jennifer would recommend this opportunity to future first year students.
"It integrates you into a whole other side of the Queen's community that you never see if you aren't a graduate student." said Warburton of his summer experience. ¬†"It also provides you with excellent contacts and a nice recommendation for applying to future jobs."
Opportunities like this one are not common for students coming out of first year. Professor Hesp offers unique experiences for Queen's engineering students which future students should take advantage of.
Another six first years have already joined Professor Hesp for this summer and plans are in the making for several publications and potential conference trips to interesting and far away places.