University News

Physical sciences dominate UTRA funds

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 7, 2012

 

Despite University efforts to increase interest from humanities and social science concentrators, summer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards remain largely dominated by the physical sciences. 

Though the program is not geared specifically toward traditional scientific research, UTRA recipients have expressed disappointment that the program does not include opportunities for discussion among students concentrating in underrepresented disciplines.

Students awarded summer UTRAs collaborate with a faculty member and receive a $3,000 stipend for their research. About 200 UTRAs were awarded last year, and more students in physical and life sciences received UTRAs than did humanities or social science students, though specific data on the breakdown of UTRA recipients was unavailable.

UTRA information sessions are held for students in all concentrations, and coordinators attempt to contact department heads about opportunities for social science and humanities research, wrote Besenia Rodriguez, associate dean of the College for undergraduate research, in an email to The Herald.

But far more applicants still draw from the physical and life sciences than from humanities or social sciences.

“I think the nature of the program lends itself to scientific research,” said Kimberly Takahata ’14, an English concentrator who received an UTRA to study the value of a liberal education with Vanessa Ryan, assistant professor of English. Many students pursuing UTRAs in the physical and life sciences must complete research as a concentration requirement, Takahata said, which encourages those students to apply for UTRAs. Humanities students, meanwhile, do not have that incentive.

Each summer, UTRA recipients attend weekly talks given by faculty members as part of the program’s Research Thursday series. Speakers draw from every division, Rodriguez wrote.

But the physical and life sciences lectures are not as applicable to students with humanities UTRAs, Takahata said, because scientific investigation requires a very methodical and technical approach to research.

For humanities research, “we have the general idea of what we’re doing, but we’re working on focusing it,” Takahata said. The process often necessitates changes to the research question throughout the study, she said, as new dimensions to the project are uncovered and added. Therefore, she said, discussion-based workshops would be more valuable to humanities researchers than lectures are.

Discussing her research with other humanities and social science concentrators was beneficial to the investigative process, Takahata said.

“I would have appreciated the opportunity to get together with others to discuss the nitty-gritty of research as well as collaborate on the big questions,” wrote Kayla Rosen ’14, a summer UTRA concentrating in history and education studies, in an email to The Herald.

Though students were able to attend talks that dealt with humanities and social studies research, there was no outlet to speak to other humanities concentrators, Takahata said. For that reason, “a lot of the discussions we were doing were taking place on our own time,” she said.

Rosen emailed the coordinators suggesting a discussion group for humanities and social science researchers. “I find that speaking aloud about my work helps me connect the dots, and I figured others might feel similarly,” she wrote.

UTRA coordinators have attempted to boost interest from humanities and social science concentrators as the program still remains “one of the very few funding sources for research in the humanities and social sciences,” Rodriguez wrote.

Humanities concentrators are sometimes attracted by various “Named UTRAs” which receive their funding from donors who would like to support certain disciplines. The Quattrocchi Family UTRA, for example, is intended for students studying classics, and the Evelyn Jacobs Reisman UTRA Fund specifically supports students concentrating in the humanities or social sciences.

“This year we began a pilot program where we connected select social science students with a subject librarian in the appropriate field,” Rodriguez wrote, and though only one student made use of the program, “the relationship between student, faculty and subject librarian was very successful.”

Humanities and social science concentrators are highly valued by the UTRA coordinators, Takahata said, adding that “the deans went out of their way to make sure that I did feel supported.”

Rosen added that faculty support was very helpful in developing a humanities-based research project. “My faculty collaborator was absolutely wonderful,” Rosen wrote. “I loved the experience of working closely with a professor.”