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2020 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) Student of the Week


Name: Jeff Shen

Hometown: Vancouver, B.C.

Program: Starting 3rd year in Sept, 2020 (Statistics, Astronomy, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto



What made you decide to participate in SURP?

I considered going to graduate school at some point, and decided that I should try to get a sense of what doing research is like. I would probably be doing myself a disservice to not do so before committing a significant amount of my time and effort to something like a graduate degree. SURP was the natural choice to apply to as an undergrad at U of T, and I’m grateful for all the people who have made this experience possible for me.


What is your favourite thing about SURP?

I have an awesome advisor (Dr. Allison Man) who is really supportive. She’s always there when I’ve got a question about something I can’t figure out or when I need clarification on concepts I don’t understand. At the same time, I still have the freedom to figure out how to tackle problems in my own way. It’s clear that she does her best to help me grow as a researcher and provide the support I need, and I’m really grateful. More broadly, I really enjoy the (remote) interactions I have with people in this community. There are a ton of people here who are super passionate and knowledgable about what they do, and it’s great being surrounded by people I can learn so much from.


Can you tell us about your research project?

I’m studying molecular gas in high-redshift galaxies using CO emissions. Usually it’s difficult to get good observations of high-redshift objects because (on top of other problems) they’re so far away and hard to see. What’s really special about the particular galaxies that I’m studying is that they’re gravitationally lensed. (you can see the lensed galaxies in the attached photo). Lensing is like having a gigantic magnifying glass, and that helps us observe faint sources that might not otherwise be detected.


Can you explain how SURP has perhaps been different from your undergrad work?

SURP is definitely different from what I’m used to, and that’s a very good thing. I get to immerse myself in a complex topic and feel like I know something about it. The program really forces me to think about the problems that I work on, and gives me the time and resources to do so. Sometimes with coursework, you don’t really have to think critically about why something works, and you can get away with not fully understanding the material. With SURP you’re encouraged in a low-stakes environment to really understand what you’re doing, and you’re the only one holding yourself accountable to make sure you do that. Sometimes, I’ll go back to read a paper that I couldn’t understand a single paragraph of when I started SURP, and now I can get through it without too much of a struggle – that feels great.


What are your plans for the future?

In the short term, I plan to go to graduate school. SURP gave me a little taste of what research is like and I’m interested in pursuing that further.