The student-faculty ratio in the sciences at Yale is 3:1, but the process of finding research opportunities can be daunting, particularly for freshmen. The Yale Undergraduate Research Association is looking to change that.
The student group kicked off its first on-campus meeting during YES-Weekend, presenting to prospective Yale students about the University’s research opportunities, and plans to expand its program over the coming months to classes, databases and mixers.
“One of the goals is to introduce people to how you can get involved in research,” said YURA co-founder Juliana Coraor ’16. “But, also, we want to build a community around research, because undergraduate research at Yale is a very solitary thing.”
The student group seeks to build a more cohesive system for finding research opportunities on and off campus by developing a database of all professors interested in undergraduate researchers, along with the contact information of students who have held the positions in the past. By reaching out to these students, interested candidates can get a sense of the working environment of the lab and the degree to which the professor gives meaningful assignments, Coraor said.
The organization is similar to undergraduate research organizations at other universities, such as the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association, started in 2007, and the Seattle University Undergraduate Research Association. These organizations allow students from those universities to build networks with other schools, as well as work within their college.
HCURA, for instance, hosts a yearly conference called the National Collegiate Research Conference, offering workshops, panels, speakers and competitions to students nationwide. Suryabrata Dutta ’18, a co-founder of the Yale student group, went to the conference to better understand how student groups at other universities fulfilled similar missions.
According to Jingjing Xiao ’18, a third co-founder, in addition to expanding its database of research opportunities, the group has three goals: recruiting more Yale students into conducting research, getting them to form a cohesive community through mixers and social events, and offering classes on research procedures taught by graduate students, upperclassmen and professors. They hope to roll out the first workshop, Research 101, next semester.
The group has already secured $2,000 in funding from Yale’s chapter of Sigma Xi, a national scientific association, and is applying for an additional $2,000 from the University. Additionally, the group has made partnerships with the Yale Undergraduate Society for the Biological Sciences and the Physics Interest Group, Xiao said.
“We want to communicate with all of these existing student organizations and have them represented within YURA, so that we can make all of the opportunities that they make available to their students open to a wider audience,” Xiao said.
The main goal for this coming semester is a housing mixer meant to make it easier for students engaging in summer research to have a network of friends during the summer, when the campus population shrinks considerably. Coraor noted that students can have a hard time maintaining and building friendships during that period, and she hopes to help solve that.
Through this organization, she said, she hopes to take some of the arbitrariness out of the process of finding summer research work. Particularly, students often find opportunities such as conferences and even job offers through connections alone, Coraor noted.
Christopher Fu ’18, a Perspectives in Science and Engineering student, had a similar experience. While PSE students typically have an easy time securing research, he found his research opportunity through a connection of his advisor. Had his freshman advisor not known that particular professor, he may not have discovered that lab, he said.
Coraor experienced something similar as an underclassman when she stumbled into the discipline that would become her passion — biophysics.
“I happened upon it by chance, and it would be nice to have an organization that introduces student to these interdisciplinary opportunities that they may not find in their coursework,” he said.
There are more than 800 labs at Yale College and the graduate and professional schools.