Don’t Wait ‘Til You Graduate: How a Side Project Can Set You Apart

STEMbuds
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You’re sitting in the lecture hall, feverishly taking notes as your eyes flick from your laptop to your professor to your open text book. Everything is going fine and you’re feeling secure in your decision to major in Engineering. That’s when it happens.

Your professor introduces a concept and your brain just. can’t. compute.

Should you raise your hand and ask him to stop his lecture to the other 400 students in the class (all of whom seem to be understanding the material perfectly) to re-explain to you what he’s just said?

Yeah… right.

What do you do instead?

After class, you find a friend and ask if he or she understood what the professor was saying. Miraculously, they understood the mathematical gibberish and agree to explain it to you.

It’s not like this friend is a better teacher than your professor, but for some reason their weird drawings or funky macaroni analogy speaks to you and it’s like the clouds have lifted and the sun is shining down. Aha! You understand!

This “Aha!” moment is exactly what STEMbuds hopes to give all its users.

The men behind STEMbuds:

Brandon Moffitt attended the University of Connecticut and received his B.S. in Material Science and Engineering in December 2013.

Rehan Muhammed is currently a senior at the University of Connecticut studying Molecular and Cell Biology.

Miles Aron graduated from the University of Hartford in the spring of 2013 and is currently a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at Oxford University.

The idea behind STEMbuds:

These three guys often talked together about their first years as STEM students. Through these discussions they discovered that they all shared a common experience:

When faced with material they didn’t understand, the best resource had not been a book, a class, or even Wikipedia. It had been discussions with friends.

What is it about talking to your friends that allows you to understand something that previously made you feel like slamming your head into a wall?

Everyone’s brain is different. Sometimes the way something is explained to us just doesn’t work and it’s not until we hear a different analogy or see it drawn out in a certain way that we understand.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this.

You’ve read Hamlet 100 times without understanding a word until you watch The Lion King (or any of these Shakespeare-inspired movies). You don’t know why H2O can break apart other molecules until you picture the Hydrogens as really boring boyfriends and Oxygens as party girls who can’t wait to break up and date the hot new element who just entered the equation.

Sometimes you can hear something explained multiple times, but for whatever reason, it’s not until that one person explains it in that certain way, that it finally clicks.

Brandon, Rehan, and Miles wanted to create a community for learning that allowed this moment to happen for any STEM student.

How STEMbuds provides this collaborative learning environment for STEM students:

It’s a completely free site that allows students to anonymously submit questions on a variety of different STEM subjects. The anonymity creates a judgment-free zone that allows students to ask any question without feeling “stupid.”

Anyone in the STEM community can provide an answer. What the founders are hoping will happen is that each question will get multiple (at least 5–6) responses. Even if the responses differ only slightly, you never know when that miniscule detail is going to click with someone.

All three of the founders took the same introductory STEM courses, but as they continued with their education, their majors went in different directions. That means if all three answer the same question, you’re getting answers from three different perspectives.

“When I’m answering a question, I’m thinking of what’s happening atom to atom,” Brandon explains, “Rehan and Miles don’t think like that. Their answers are going to come from a completely different place.”

So far, there have only been a few responses from people in the STEM community apart from the founders themselves, but they expect the numbers to increase as more people discover the site. They believe that people will want to engage in this open environment and community and will gravitate toward that. People are going to want to share their stance on a subject.

Not to mention the benefit that comes along with answering a question. When composing your answer, you find yourself delving deeper into the topic than you ever have before. You end up learning so much more while teaching someone else.

Why they chose to use video responses:

When you respond to a question, you are asked to answer with a video. You can either upload one or directly record one onto the site with your webcam.

By using videos, the founders are hoping to keep the “human element” that is so often lost in written answers. They want it to feel like you’re just talking with one of your buddies. Videos also allow for different creative approaches to answering a question.

It can be incredibly frustrating to “hit a wall” in your studies. Sometimes your textbooks and/or teachers just aren’t making sense to you and you need to hear something explained in a different way. There’s definitely something to be said about hearing something in “conversational English” as opposed to the formal jargon presented to you through resources like medical journals, professors, and textbooks.

STEMbuds gives students the opportunity to find an answer that really clicks with them.

Don’t miss their TED talk on April 26th, “Jazz, Astrophysics, and Bubbles: The Future of Education in the Cloud.”

Homework time! Studying STEM? Ask a question or submit an answer to STEMbuds. And don’t forget to check out their Facebook page. In a different field? Start a weekly study group. Whether you’re hearing someone explain something or you’re doing the explaining yourself, you’ll definitely benefit from this collaborative learning.

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3 Responses to “Don’t Wait ‘Til You Graduate: How a Side Project Can Set You Apart”

  1. Kim McKillop

    This is a great article…and what a great idea that I think a lot of students will benefit from. Since it’s O.K. to ask stupid questions. What is a Stem student? Stem Cell?

    Reply

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