Distributed Research Experience for Undergraduates: Catching up with DREU Alumna Olivia Figueira

When did you participate in DREU and what was your project about?
I participated in a DREU program in the summer of 2019 at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. I worked with Dr. Jennifer Mankoff in her Make4All lab on a project aimed at finding the contribution of correlated stressors on mental health in college students.

Olivia Figueroa

Olivia at the University of Washington fountain.

How did DREU shape your research career?
DREU has shaped my research career in that it was my first official research experience and I really enjoyed it! I have had the goal of going to graduate school for a while, but I did not have any research experience off which I could base that goal. But after DREU, I feel even more excited and passionate to go to graduate school than ever before. It gave me a very unique view of the graduate school experience since I worked closely with a doctoral student in the lab, and I learned so much about conducting research at the graduate level. DREU allowed me to picture what graduate school could look like for me, and I am really excited about that prospect.


Olivia presenting her DREU research at GHC as a CRA-WP Research Scholar.

What advice would you have for DREU mentors and DREU student participants?
The best piece of advice I received during my DREU program was during a meet-and-greet lunch for undergraduate interns, graduate students, and visiting research interns in the computer science and engineering school that was held in my first week at UW. The graduate students were participating in a panel, and one of them, in response to the question “What do you wish you had known before you started your Ph.D.?”, said that they wished they knew that it was okay to not have all the answers and to ask questions, especially questions that they think are “dumb.” This really resonated with me as I felt somewhat unprepared having had no prior research experience, but I embraced that piece of advice and asked questions immediately when I had doubts, even if I felt like they were “dumb” questions, because clearly no one there is “dumb”! It really enhanced my experience since I was able to understand the project better and learn more from my mentor and the other students on my team. On the mentor side of things, I would advise them to tell their DREU students this advice! It helps the DREU student feel like they are in a safe environment and that learning (and making mistakes) is okay. This enhanced my DREU experience, and I hope other DREU students and mentors do the same!

About DREU
The Distributed Research Experience for Undergraduates (DREU) is a highly selective program that matches students with a faculty mentor for a summer research experience at the faculty mentor’s home institution.

DREU interns have the opportunity to be directly involved in a research project and interact with graduate students and professors on a daily basis. This experience is invaluable for those who are considering graduate school; DREU provides  a close-up view of what graduate school is really like and increases interns’ competitiveness as an applicant for graduate admissions and fellowships. Faculty mentors have the opportunity to work on their research project with new students from other institutions and to mentor future graduate students.

DREU 2020 applications for interns and mentors are open now. For more information, see https://cra.org/cra-wp/dreu/#application.