Computer science student shares benefits of undergraduate research // Mizzou Engineering

Computer science student shares benefits of undergraduate research // Mizzou Engineering

06 November 2023

Miles Farmer is conducting undergraduate research

Miles Farmer came to Mizzou Engineering to take advantage of opportunities and tailor his degree to his long-term goals. Now a sophomore majoring in computer science and mathematics, he is already conducting undergraduate research and considering graduate school.

“The initial impetus for my involvement in research was the Discovery Fellows program offered by the Honors College, which provided research opportunities during my first year,” Farmer said. “I really enjoy the process of solving difficult problems and the experience of creating something new, so being able to immediately start working on research was a major reason I chose Mizzou.”

Farmer’s research centers around discovering vulnerabilities in software using machine learning techniques and then analyzing the choices made during that process. He is working with Ekincan Ufuktepe, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, to create a system for detecting source code vulnerabilities using graph neural networks (GNNs) applied to graph code representations.

The project, a collaboration with NIST, is ongoing, but Farmer says this approach shows promise in its contributions to the understanding of GNNs in this application and in their performance compared to existing approaches.

“The resulting system, designed based on the fundamental analyzes of our work, exceeds the performance of many existing detectors, including those based on machine learning models,” he said.

So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the duality of learning more about the subject as a student and discovering new solutions alongside Mizzou’s leading innovators.

“I really enjoy diving into the complexities of a topic and being able to use a wide range of concepts to craft a unique solution to a real problem,” Farmer said. “It’s exciting to know that I’m expanding my understanding of the concepts and techniques I use, but I’m also contributing to the collective understanding of a topic by creating truly new information.”

For Farmer, university research is not just about gaining technical expertise. It also taught him a lot about the research process and research communication, among other skills.

“There’s a lot more to research than just running experiments,” he said. “It requires a high level of technical communication to publish and collaborate, the ability to survey existing literature to inform your choices and understanding, creativity to devise solutions to solve a variety of problems and time management to juggle research, classes and other commitments.”

It is partly due to these soft skills that he recommends all students pursue undergraduate research.

“Even if you don’t plan to work in research, you can put technical information into context and apply the techniques you learn in courses while developing soft skills that are transferable to almost any work you do,” Farmer said.

Currently, Farmer’s long-term goals focus on continuing research in software analysis and applications of GNNs, including after completing this project, applying to graduate school to continue his studies. But he is also actively looking for internship experience outside the lab in addition to his research to learn what it’s like to work in software engineering.

“I currently work part-time as a software engineer intern at Garmin as a continuation of the summer internship I obtained by attending the career fair last fall,” Farmer said. “Besides being a really fun experience, I actually encountered many concepts in my research and courses that I learned through that opportunity.”

Overall, the Mizzou Engineering experience created lasting memories and instilled a forward-thinking ideology in Farmer.

“The guidance from research mentors like Dr. Ofoktepe has allowed me to work on real, interesting problems that challenge me to improve my understanding of computer science concepts and work hard to create original ideas,” he said. “And the enthusiasm of my professors made my courses very attractive.”

Earn an engineering degree from a university with opportunities to solve real-world problems through undergraduate research. Choose Meso Engineering!

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