UR Director of Undergraduate Research and Physics Professor Steven Manly discussed the numerous ways that students can get involved with research on campus in an interview with members of the Campus Times.
What is your job and the purpose of your office?
Undergraduate research is something where UR [has] a phenomenal niche. Small colleges have an advantage because students get to know the professor better, and they make a big play on that. But the truth is that they don’t have the kind of research that we have. You don’t become a faculty member here without having done a lot of research. It’s a relatively small and friendly place so we feel that it’s a great place to do undergraduate research.
When I’m on the admissions committee for graduate school I look for two things: one is that the student has grades in core courses, and the other is that they can make this transition from book learning into exploring things where the answers are not known. That just takes a certain amount of chutzpah that you sort of have or you don’t.
[Dean of the College] Richard Feldman also feels it’s really important, so he brought me into this job with the request that I lower the barriers and raise the visibility of undergraduate research at UR. I’d like to make this place known as a place that’s very friendly toward undergraduate research.
Students have noticed a few initiatives to raise visibility of undergraduate research. We have received an e-mail about a job listing Web site where professors seeking help in research can post their request on and where students can learn about research opportunities. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
It’s a brand new initiative. We’ve had the idea for a while and we finally got it to the point where we could roll it out about two weeks ago. From the point of view of students I believe the barriers for getting started are numerous. There are lots of problems with the kind of e-mails that I get from students in the form of, ‘I’m interested in this, can you help me out?” One, it’s a vast place so I really don’t know everything and everybody, and the other is the culture of research and how it’s done and how it’s founded and what motivates professors to work with students. It’s different in physics, in anthropology there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
So in this particular listing facility, we’re trying to encourage faculty to use it because there are instances where the faculty member has cooked up the job; they have an idea of something they would like done, and they need to go fishing for a suitable student.
The idea is to roll this out and if professors have an opening [they can] just list it [on the Web site] and then students have a place to go. It is potentially very useful.
So is just spreading the word all you can do?
I would encourage students to spread the word as much as they can. One of the things we are trying to do with the department is get a department-by-department web listing in place. I’m trying to reach at least one or two people in each department. This whole Web site is going to be updated.
Do you think that research opportunities are more available in some fields than others?
It’s definitely not evenly spread out but it’s not 100 percent how you might think it would be biased. There are certainly more opportunities in the sciences and engineering at the Med Center. There are places [for research] in the humanities and social sciences, and I think you’ll see more of this in the upcoming years. One of the biggest surprises to me as a science geek is that when I would talk to people in the humanities areas and I would realize that they were very open to doing these independent studies and working with students.
Is there any other sort of initiative that you might foresee in the future rather than this new Web site and all the other resources available online?
We’ve got a lot that we’re trying to do. Just to summarize, this year is the first year that we’re doing an Art and Undergraduate Research Competition, and the motivation for doing that is to get people to think about cross-boundaries of their research. [Another] one of the things that we are going to try to put in place next year, we’re going to start trying to capture this information. We will probably put in place through the Registrar some sort of a Web page, which is a part of the registration process. You will have to supply us information on your undergraduate research for any of the independent study courses that people sign up for.
The goal is to collect the information so that we can become more helpful. We will never get rid of the need for students to figure out what they are actually interested in.
There is another huge initiative: Portable Research grant. Some fraction of the incoming class each year is invited to think about if they have some research idea that they can apply for a Portable Research grant, which is $3,000 that they can use at any time while they’re here. They can come here with an agreement that that money is there and then as they develop their interests, they can use that to support or make happen some undergrad research project.
As a prominent research professor involved in the field of physics, what would you say to a student who has always shied away from research or thought that it was not something they were cut out for?
There’s a reason why we don’t have it as a graduation requirement. I’ve known a lot of people who couldn’t stand the book learning of academics and then once you start throwing them in the problems where nobody has the answers, everything all the sudden begins to be fun and actually makes the books begin to make sense.
In the end my hope for every student when they start here is that they find out who they are and learn to make the most out of that, and if they find that out early enough hopefully we have the infrastructure that can provide them the tools to do that. That’s to me what we’re all about. I think in many cases students owe it to themselves to explore this and I think if a student is serious about graduate school and they are potentially interested in research of any form, then they really need to do this.
Radovani is a member of
the class of 2012.
Clark is a member of
the class of 2012.