The online interactive magazine of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

Workshop Name: How to Engage in AI Research as an Undergraduate? 

The technical workshop titled “How to Engage in AI Research as an Undergraduate?” was held on September 8, 2022, at the 2022 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference in Washington, D.C. The workshop is aimed at undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities to expose them to AI research and get them engaged in research at their University or in a Summer research program. Studies have shown that exposure to research is a critical factor that affects future consideration for graduate studies. The workshop is motivated by the fact that too few undergraduates from underrepresented groups consider research as a career path, and, as a result, their numbers in graduate programs are severely lagging behind their already low numbers in undergraduate programs in computing. 

The 2022 CMD-IT/ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference was held September 6-9, 2022, in Washington, D.C. It is the premier venue to support and encourage diversity in computing. The 75-minute interactive workshop titled “How to Engage in AI Research as an Undergraduate?” was held on September 8, 2022. This workshop’s goal is to encourage undergraduate students, especially from underrepresented minorities, to get engaged in research in AI. Research opens the door for graduate studies and for careers where the opportunities for influencing the directions of AI are significantly increased. It was sponsored by the AAAI Diversity and Inclusion Committee. 

The workshop included a mix of short lecture-style instruction with audience participation and small group hands-on activities. Ahead of the workshop, each participant was given access to a workbook with the material to be covered, which included research opportunities, how to approach a faculty, guidelines for writing a literature review, information on summer-funded research programs, how to apply to graduate school, some questions to help the discussion, and space to write short reflections.   

Approximately thirty undergraduate students – sophomores, juniors, and seniors – from small colleges to large universities attended the workshop. The workshop got started with faculty presenters Shana Watters (University of Minnesota), Erion Plaku (George Mason University), Lydia Tapia (University of New Mexico), and Anita Raja (Hunter College, CUNY) introducing themselves and briefly sharing thoughts on what research in AI entails, what differentiates a research project from other academic activities and how to get started doing research.  

The audience was then split into four groups, with each faculty presenter leading the group for interactive group activities. Following student introductions about their educational background and reason for attending the workshop,  each group was given a very short peer-reviewed research paper on topics ranging from natural language processing, search, human-automation interaction, and multiagent systems to read with guidance from the faculty presenter on how to read a research paper, students read each section of the paper and discussed it with their group in response to questions from the workbook. The faculty then shared a few specific research projects from their own research areas and introduced undergraduate summer research programs. The last part of the group activity time involved a discussion on how students could seek out and secure research opportunities. This included specifics on how to prepare and reach out to  faculty members about opportunities to do research in their labs. The students were enthusiastic and engaged during this interactive portion of the workshop. 

Everyone then returned to the large group setting during which NSF CISE/CCF division director Dr. Dilma Da Silva shared about the importance of undergraduate research while highlighting specific NSF funding opportunities that support Computer Science and AI undergraduate research. The workshop concluded with time for Q&A and networking. 

Anita Raja, Shana Watters, Erion Plaku and Lydia Tapia served as co-presenters of this workshop. This report was written by Anita Raja 

Anita Raja is a Professor at the Department of Computer Science, Hunter College, City College of New York.