A Reset: From Charlotte to Antarctica and Beyond - Erich Choudhury '21

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time starts to lose form when you measure it not in days, but in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Deadlines seem further away. Memories seem closer. And Captain Picard seems to be constantly giving life advice. However, regardless of how it's measured, time keeps moving along and I'm finding myself swiftly approaching the next – and my final -- year at UNC Charlotte. If you had asked me three months ago about what I had planned for the summer before my senior year, I would have eagerly told you about the internship I had lined up at Siemens PLM in Charlotte. They had hired me to be an intern software developer on a Scrum Team, a small team of around 5 to 10 people, where I would be working alongside professional developers on the same projects. I was beyond excited – albeit really nervous -- that I would have an opportunity to work on real company projects with professionals, gain work experience with a good company, and ultimately achieve the most coveted of resume items for a budding engineer: an internship. Work experience has always been marketed to me as one of the most important parts of the engineering curriculum, and it was something I had put off to practice German in Germany and to dig at an archeological site in Jerusalem (both well, well worth it), so I was eager to secure an internship before graduating. Then COVID-19 put the world into a stranglehold.

So, writing to you now from my couch with an episode of Star Trek playing in the background, I’m going to discuss how my plans have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and what I’ve been up to. My internship, like countless others, was cancelled. Fortunately, Siemens elected to defer it until spring 2021, so I am still planning to work for them in the spring. Unfortunately, I had to figure out how to fill my summer at the last minute. I decided to enroll in a summer class, Graph Theory, to reduce my workload in the fall, and start looking into research opportunities. Luckily, I was able to work on two separate projects, both during and after my coursework.   

The first was a cross-disciplinary project for a professor in the Geology department where her team was working in a very dry area in Antarctica in order to study erosion in environments where there is very little water. The results of their research could have useful applications when studying paleoclimates and Martian landscapes. Using videos that she recorded in Antarctica of four rocks and multiple software tools, I was able to create 3D models of each rock, clean them up, and collect accurate vertex location data from them. The results are shown below for one of the rocks. 

The second project was in robotics where I was put to work creating an as realistic as possible model of Woodward Hall in a video game developing software to simulate autonomous drone and turtle-bot navigation. I am currently working to integrate my model with Microsoft’s AirSim software, or a drone simulator, and ROS, or the Robot Operating System in order to create a streamlined simulator whose results can be directly loaded onto a robot and run.

Both of these projects have given me the opportunity to start considering what I want to pursue after graduation, while also giving me time to work on my own personal projects and just relax. Ultimately, it doesn't feel like I have been set back at all, but rather reset. This summer has felt like an opportunity to look earnestly at myself, my accomplishments, and my future. Most importantly, it has allowed me to reconsider my values. What I had long considered immutable, the next step in an algorithm for success -- an internship, a job, grad school applications -- simply disappeared forcing me to reconcile with what was left: me, my wellbeing, and my interests. As I get closer to the end of the summer (and the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation) I am beginning to realize that Picard may be right, that -- regardless of how it seems -- “time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived. After all Number One, we're only mortal.