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Editorial: A call for student research

The University recently reported its decision to increase the number of Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award recipients and expand the monetary award from $3,000 to $3,500. This action was made in part as an element of President Christina Paxson’s drive to get more undergraduates involved in research with faculty.

Brown’s unique educational structure and size make it the perfect environment for students to work closely with professors. We are a national research university with more of a liberal arts feel; a student population of around 6,100 undergraduates keeps class sizes relatively small. At the same time, our status as a university with many full graduate programs grants us research capacities not often seen at liberal arts schools. This environment is one that Paxson should use to promote undergraduate involvement in research, as she is indeed doing.

But what makes getting involved with research a difficult task for many undergraduates is not accessibility. At Brown, there is usually room for a research assistant — if not in your field of interest, then in a related field. For many academics, research is their life, without a start or an end date. This contrasts heavily with the deadline-driven world of an undergraduate. Additionally, there exist coordination problems with matching students and faculty members for research. It can be difficult for students to know which faculty members are working on what projects and what type of assistance they might require.

For these reasons, there needs to be a better infrastructure for students looking for research opportunities to connect with professors. A virtual “research classifieds” board where professors provide listings and opportunities for research assistance would be useful. This should extend to unpaid research opportunities. Even if not obtaining financial compensation from a professor, students should seek to more thoroughly investigate the subjects they study. These types of research opportunities can be the most difficult to find, which is precisely why they should be more heavily advertised.

Ultimately, Brown is a perfect place for undergraduate research, and Paxson’s plan to promote it by increasing the number of UTRAs is a wonderful strategy. Greater infrastructure might make accomplishing this task simpler and would certainly make it easier for students to connect with faculty members with whom they want to work. Brown’s structure, that of the university-college, is one that allows for this kind of direct involvement. Students should not waste this prospect.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Matt Brundage ’15 and Rachel Occhiogrosso ’14, and its members, Hannah Loewentheil ’14 and Thomas Nath ’16. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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