As a professor at Illinois Computer Science since 2005, Darko Marinov has built a strong knowledge base on the research process in software engineering and, beyond that, on how to cultivate interest in the research process at undergraduate students.
In February, his efforts as a research mentor to undergraduate students were recognized by CRA-E when he won its Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentorship Award.
Although humbled and honored by the accolade, Marinov also thanked his colleagues – particularly Sasa Misailovic, Reyhaneh Jabbarvand and Lingming Zhang – for taking the time to nominate him.
Ultimately, he felt inspired by the recognition as recognition for his approach to mentoring undergraduate students.
“The first thing I usually try to do is help them decide what they want to do next,” Marinov said. “Undergraduates are at a stage in their lives where they’re just exploring, and probably the biggest option for them is to join the industry or go on to graduate school.
“My first goal is to help them make a decision about it. The second objective is to help them prepare in case they want to embark on research.
This thoughtful approach is something that Marinov has developed over time, and even in defiance of some of the analysis that might go into recognizing a faculty member’s effectiveness in this area.
Additional Perspective from Marinov Associate Professors in Software Engineering
“Simple and concise, Darko cares about his students and his peers. He’s the kind of mentor who listens to you without judging you and his words are always encouraging. I am grateful to have him as a mentor. Students benefit from its engagement in undergraduate research through research enjoyment and curiosity, even if they do not end up in academia.
“One of the most important things is that Darko really cares about students and always tries to help students improve. Darko also really enjoys mentoring students and spending a lot of time with them. It means a lot, because effective mentorship can help an undergraduate student better prepare for research projects, stimulate their interest in research, build their confidence, and most importantly, set the standard for them.
Too often, he said, people in higher education take pride in themselves and others helping undergraduates by taking a closer look at the number of students who go on to graduate school. and get their doctorate.
“I consider it a bit of a tricky metric, just looking at the percentage of undergraduates we have who go on to graduate school,” Marinov said. “The implication is that you should immediately focus on pushing them to attend higher education. I consider this to be a very personal decision and as a mentor I view it through a much more subjective relationship.
“Did I help the student make the right decision for him? Have I provided them with the information they need to help them decide on their future in the best possible way? »
Among the colleagues who supported Marinov by nominating him for this award, one even knows the impact of his approach to undergraduate mentorship.
Misailovic, a fellow computer science professor from Illinois, began his journey to a current position in academia as an undergraduate computer science student at the University of Belgrade. During this time he came to Illinois CS as a visiting scholar, where he worked with Marinov.
This experience helped confirm his interest in computer research as he earned a master’s degree in computer engineering and science from the same university and a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Working with Darko as an undergraduate student was a real privilege and an eye-opening experience that motivated me to continue my journey in academia. Where else can one have so much fun while exploring new new ideas and building new systems? Misailovic said. “Now, as a teacher, I try to apply the lessons I learned from Darko and create a similar environment for my students.”
These types of successful interactions point to something bigger, according to Marinov. Curiously, the co-winner of this CRA-E award, Jelani Nelson, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was also an undergraduate student of Marinov at one time.
After learning of this coincidence, the two reconnected — providing another opportunity for the professor to assess why undergraduate research mentorship is important and rewarding.
“It’s not just about me, but everyone in our field of software engineering research,” Marinov said. “There is an overriding sense of camaraderie and collaboration that impacts how we work with others. This is not the case everywhere, and it makes me proud to be part of this group. We strive to put the needs of others first and do our best to help them progress as they see fit.
And they are trying to achieve this in different ways, Marinov pointed out.
Another advantage of software engineering as a field of research is its accessibility.
Unlike other fields that require a high degree of expertise for active participation in their research, software engineering provides an excellent gateway for undergraduate students to learn more about research. Their still relatively new computer skills can contribute to ongoing research; they don’t have to be a mere spectator.
Quite rightly, Marinov and this group have spearheaded outreach efforts, as they did a summer ago with a virtual undergraduate research program led by the four members from the region mentioned earlier – as well as Tianyin Xu , whose research bridges both software and systems engineering.
“We opened this summer program to everyone because virtual participation allowed us to meet this need on a large scale,” Marinov said. “Nevertheless, we were expecting around 20 applications and received over 200. It was great for our group to raise awareness of our research efforts, and we will do so again this summer.”
Marinov also mentioned that he worked with a high school student for the first time last summer.
Although happy with the CRA-E award, the best part of the process for Marinov is simply being there for others during an important life stage.
But as much as he has benefited others, Marinov also benefits a lot from the process.
“What Illinois undergraduates bring is enthusiasm,” he said. “They are open to new ideas, even when we pose difficult problems to them. Many do not even know how difficult these questions are and can sometimes surprise you by finding interesting solutions. They are young, full of energy and want to explore. They aren’t afraid to try new things, even if it doesn’t work out at first.