Summer vacation may be months away, but students and instructors in every academic division are already planning for Colgate’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program.
Each summer, over 100 undergraduates spend 8-10 weeks in Hamilton, taking advantage of Colgate’s faculty and facilities to perform research in areas of their choice.
The research positions are funded by Colgate, corporate or foundation grants, individual donors or faculty research grants, and provide opportunities for students that are not available at many bigger universities.
“This is a chance for students to contribute something original to their field of study,” Coordinator of Undergraduate Research Mary Jane Walsh said.
With schedules that parallel those of professional researchers, students get their first taste of a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.
No longer constrained by class times or inconvenient lab hours, summer researchers enjoy personal attention from professors specializing in the topic and department of their choice.
“I got to know my professors a lot more than I did during the school year,” senior John McGann said. McGann has dedicated two of his summers to on-campus study, first in Music and then Chemistry.
“My summer research really put what I did in the classroom in a more practical sense,” he said.
Not only does summer research providesstudents with invaluable experience in their fields, it rewards them with money in their pockets. Generous funding from the University and other sources supports students with a weekly stipend of $400. Students are required to pay for housing, but the University opens up the Broad Street houses, which cost $55 per week. There are also options available in town.
Although 112 of the 127 summer researchers last year remained on the Colgate campus for their academic work, the opportunities are not limited to Hamilton. Some students are able to obtain grants from the University or other institutions, such as the Upstate Institute, to perform research abroad.
“Last summer we sent a student to Europe to research film and another to China for the Asian Studies program,” Walsh said.
Walsh also organizes a series of social events to keep on-campus students busy, such as picnics and discount nights at The Barge Coffee Shop.
These summer scholarly pursuits often result in forming long-term networking connections and friendships with professors and fellow researchers.
“The professor I worked with overseas is coming to the U.S. and we are planning on continuing our research together,” senior Geography major Taylor Swick said.
Through Colgate, he spent six weeks last summer in Wollongong, Australia researching factors that led the Australian government to send soldiers to fight in World War Two.
“This experience helped prepare me for my honors thesis – plus, it was the trip of a lifetime,” Swick said. “I would recommend summer research to anyone.”
Despite the scarcity of students, a dynamic social scene emerges that students find refreshing.
“Socially, the summer in Hamilton was amazing!” sophomore Jessica Wells said. She spent last summer in the Biology Department, researching color variants in flowers.
“We were free all weekend, so I got to meet and spend time with a lot of people that I normally wouldn’t get to meet.”
After deciding on a topic of study, students must develop their own research proposal and submit it to the appropriate academic department. Here, it will be discussed by faculty and, pending its quality, approved or rejected.
Walsh urges prospective researchers to work closely with their faculty mentors while writing proposals, and cautioned against proposals that are broad and unoriginal.
Researchers this summer will benefit from being a part of Colgate’s first annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, where students will present their research results to their peers and university faculty.
“We often send students off to meetings and professional conferences to share their findings if their research works out well,” Walsh said. She recommends that people “take their research seriously” for they never know how profound their discoveries may prove.