Sunday, 16 September 2012

GUEST POST: A Summer Research Internship

During the early part of 2012 I applied for some funds to carry out research on game theoretical behaviour in hierarchical queueing systems. I successfully obtained money from the LANCS initiative ( to hire an undergraduate student to do a 10 week internship. The original goal of the project was to build a simulation model that would be used to aid the research project.

After interviewing half a dozen students I appointed Jason Young. Jason was an absolute pleasure to work with and worked extremely hard. Consequently a lot more was done through this project, Jason and I stil laugh about the fact that originally the plan was "just build a simulation model". As soon as I find some time I'll be writing it up for publication. 

At the end of the project I asked Jason to write up a blog post describing the internship from his point of view. First of all, I thought this might be interesting and second of all, I'll encourage future students to read Jason's thoughts. Here it is:


Hello my name is Jason Young and I’ve been working this summer as a research intern. Over the summer I was tasked to build a simulation model of a queuing problem in python, and you can see the results of the project at the end of this post. 

It’s been an interesting experience, and an invaluable insight into the world of mathematical research, and into a working environment. To anyone thinking about or preparing for an internship, this will be the most valuable thing that you take away from the position. It’s a great opportunity to learn and build contacts in your chosen profession, especially if you do well. This is a crucial moment in any undergrads career, and a lot of future employers will look at your experience as a guide to how active you’ve been during your degree, and summer internships are a great way of gaining experience without taking a full year out.

When I first started this project, my attitude was very much that I needed to succeed. My supervisor used to say “Impress or Disappoint”, which is an accurate statement of how the project will go. If you don’t put 100% in, and do an okay job, it’ll make you forgettable  overall. The only way to make a lasting impression is to put as much effort in as possible. It helps in this respect to enjoy your project.

In the week leading up to the internship I did some prep work, learning the basics of python, which was pretty valuable toward the start of the placement. This is also the point where I began to enjoy the challenge of research. As an undergrad with little to no knowledge of how research was carried out, I was quite apprehensive of the whole thing. Once I got started however, I saw that It was something I was very much going to enjoy. The main idea behind research is why. After finishing the model, we began to investigate the problem and I don’t think there was a single occasion that there was a result that we didn’t understand, mainly because after each conclusion had been reached we thought about it. I think if you’re on the fence about a research career this is what you should consider. Personally this is the part I enjoyed most, gaining insights into this mathematical problem, and testing the theory from every angle.

After getting through a significant part of the project, I was told that I’d be able to present my work at a conference. This was a huge honour (I wasn’t told till after, but I was the only undergraduate there) but easily the scariest part of the project. People who researched for years and years would be sitting and watching me talk about my research, which had all of 9 weeks behind it. As you can imagine the weeks leading up to it were a rather stressful affair. I spent an entire week getting the presentation ready, to me and my supervisor’s satisfaction and practicing it in front of some post grad students, who were very kind to stay late and watch, giving some really good feedback. After all this preparation, I was still quite nervous about the whole affair, but once we got to the conference itself, I relaxed quite a bit. Most of the people there were entirely there to learn and question, and didn’t mind me joining in any discussion about research interests. This and the fact that the presentation went really well (One of the questions asked gave us an entirely new train of thought) made it a great experience.

At times it’s been stressful, especially when the work piled up, but with enough persistence there was always enough time and my supervisor was extremely helpful and really pushed me to do the best I could. Overall I’ve loved the work that I’ve done this summer, and really proud of the result.


The various outputs of the project can be found here:

  • With a few weeks to go Jason did a short screen cast showing the negative effect selfish behaviour can have in queueing systems:

  • Jason presented his work at OR54 (the annual meeting of the UK Operational Research society). Here's a screencast of the talk he gave (the sound quality is terrible but there's a blooper at the end):
  • The above slides can be found here.
  • A version of the program used can be found here (I'm still hoping that Jason and/or I will find time to clean this up a bit).
  • Here are a few pics from the project:
Jason had a bunch of computers in a lab running code. This one was Guinevere.

Practicing the talk on the flight to Edinburgh.
This is where we screencast the talk.
Here's a picture of Jason presenting at OR54.