Students Flock to Undergraduate Research Opportunity Fair

November 08, 2010

November 5, 2010 — There are many opportunities for University of Virginia undergraduates to engage in research. On Wednesday, they took advantage of a chance to explore them.
More than two dozen centers, institutes and departments – from hard science to social research to politics – were represented at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Fair, held midday in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. Hundreds of students seeking information, research projects and funding worked the hall, seeing what was available, where their interests fit and getting inspiration.

“We really liked the research we were doing last year and we want to continue it here,” said Vietvuong Vo, who was investigating alternatives with Evan Dombrosky. Both are second-year, pre-med biology students in the College of Arts & Sciences who transferred from the College of William & Mary. 

They were among of the waves of students who came through the ballroom between classes, before and after lunch and as they were on their way to somewhere else. Vo and Dombrosky heard about the fair over lunch downstairs and came looking for summer research projects with stipends.

“A few of the tables were helpful,” Dombrosky said. “We’re looking for advice.”

Plenty was available – not just from the centers, but from the students as well. The Undergraduate Research Network, a student-run organization formed in 2001 to encourage, support and publicize undergraduate research, and the Oculus, a student-run journal that publishes undergraduate research, were both represented.

The fair was organized by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, which advises students on undergraduate research opportunities, national scholarships and fellowships.

“This has been very successful,” said Lucy Russell, executive director of the center. “We started the annual Research Opportunities Fair in fall 2008 as a way of helping students find out about a range of research-related programs, and helping those programs reach students.  It's been a very rewarding endeavor.”

While some students were seeing what was available, others had specific projects in mind. Mary Bennett, international site coordinator for the Center for Global Health, said one student had a specific proposal for a specific country and she was trying to see where it would fit. Others had interests in certain countries and wanted to see how global health research could fit into their majors.

Many of the centers offer a wide array of options for students, including specific projects, internships and fellowships.

“I’m looking for second- and third-year students who want hands-on, independent research,” said Eric S. Nagy, associate director of the Mountain Lake Biological Station, which offers field research in ecology, evolution and behavior on a mountaintop near Blacksburg.

Nagy said the program, which is run through the College's biology department, offers summer session courses, internships and many research opportunities for students.

Morgan Wagner, a second-year biology student from Goochland who has been looking for biological field research during the summer, was impressed with the Mountain Lake station.

“I didn’t know where to start, and after talking with these people I have a much better idea,” she said.

Wagner said she heard about the fair from a friend who knew she was looking for research opportunities. She views it as a “kick-off point” for her search and said she will do further research on the Internet.

Anne Mulligan, coordinator for academic programs at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, said many students expressed an interest in history and politics research, and in the overall work of the center.

“We’ve gotten a great response for our undergraduate internships and a lot of students seeking general information,” Mulligan said. “More of them want to see what’s out there and some have signed up for our mailing list.”

Lauren George, a third-year transfer student from Northern Virginia Community College, is a developmental psychology major in the College seeking research in her field. She said she had been looking for scholarships and grants and found a lot of valuable information at the fair.

“As a third-year transfer student, it is more of a challenge. You really have to hustle,” she said, adding "Everyone has been very straightforward about this.”

— By Matt Kelly