The Yale Undergraduate Research Association, founded last year, is working to bring student researchers out of their labs and into conversation with one another.
Co-presidents Nishant Jain ’18, Jingjing Xiao ’18 and Suryabrata Dutta ’18 said they understand that undergraduate research at Yale is highly independent, but they wanted to build a community around research in which students could navigate Yale’s resources, share original work and learn from their peers. While undergraduate research groups have existed at other universities for some time — in 2007, for example, undergraduates at Harvard founded the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association — YURA fills a gap on Yale’s campus. YURA, which recently grew from its five-member founding team to a 22-member board, has organized conference delegations, fellowship information sessions and social events for students who stay in New Haven over the summer to work with professors.
“I’m usually skeptical when students want to start a new organization on campus, given that we already have so many,” said Associate Dean of Yale College and Dean of Academic Programs George Levesque, YURA’s principal advisor. “But in this case, I was persuaded that the founders were seeking to provide something that was missing. There are relatively few student organizations that promote conversation about student research ideas and projects, and even fewer that try to bring students together from different disciplines.”
The organization aims to unites student researchers in all disciplines. Jain pointed out the difficulties students interested in humanities and social sciences face because student research in those fields is not as common on campus.
Xiao, who recently changed her major from one in the sciences to one in the humanities, said her experience highlights how students involved in YURA choose to pursue interdisciplinary research.
“As of two weeks ago, I decided to change from pursuing hard science to pursuing English, partly because YURA’s interactions with the Yale Digital Humanities Lab have demonstrated how my hard-science background can support my passion for storytelling,” Xiao said. “For example, the systematic study of digital storytelling media helped me conceptualize the multimedia short story on which I’m currently working.”
Despite only being a year old, YURA has already made an impact on hundreds of students, the co-presidents said. Last semester, the organization put together Yale’s first undergraduate research symposium, which connected students to their peers’ work. Unlike most symposiums, which focus on a specific field and often invite other universities to attend, September’s Yale Undergraduate Research Symposium was open to any discipline. Roughly 50 students presented their work to an audience of 400.
“One thing that especially struck us last year was that many Yale students do not even know about all of the incredible work that their peers are doing,” Jain said. “At the end of their summer research experiences, most students who do work on campus simply write up a short report without really getting the opportunity to share their research with the Yale community.”
Currently, the organization is working on developing a database of Yale labs willing to work with undergraduate students, and also on creating a national coalition of student-run research associations, Dutta said. Similar organizations at other Ivy League universities, as well as universities in Canada, are also spearheading this effort.
A few of the newest board members said they became interested in leading YURA after presenting at the research symposium.
“I think the greatest accomplishment that this organization has had so far is helping undergraduates and faculty at Yale realize just how powerful and impactful the undergraduate research experience is at Yale,” Dutta said. “We do not feel this impact until we come together and see the significance and breadth of this work at our conference, or hear about how an idea from neuroscience sparks influential work in economics.”
Approximately 95 percent of STEM students at Yale pursue some form of research during their undergraduate years.