On Saturday, the Yale Undergraduate Research Association unveiled its Research Database, the most comprehensive, searchable directory of faculty research listings available to the Yale community to date.
The YURA Research Database, or RDB, allows undergraduates to explore the research of over 1,400 Yale faculty members within the University. Students have the option to search for faculty mentors in the humanities, social sciences and STEM fields using department filters and a keyword search function.
“Our goal, as an organization, is to make the process of getting involved with research as an undergraduate less imposing and more fluid,” said YURA Co-President Nishant Jain ’18, who founded the organization in January 2015 with Surya Dutta ’18 and Jingjing Xiao ’18. “It’s something that a lot of people are excited about and interested in, but they just don’t know where to begin. We wanted to serve as a springboard to facilitate people getting involved in research.”
To publicize the new project, YURA members created a video to demonstrate the RDB’s interface and features. YURA timed the database’s launch to benefit students who want to plan ahead for summer opportunities, said Nicole Eskow ’19, who worked on the RDB project team.
The RDB had more than 1,200 page views by the end of its first day, Dutta said. He added that the RDB is one of YURA’s largest undertakings since the organization was founded.
According to Xiao, the idea for creating the database emerged when the YURA founders were looking for their own research opportunities as freshmen.
“Across all the years at Yale, from freshmen to seniors, almost everyone has to undertake research either because we’re interested in it extracurricularly, or as a graduation requirement for senior theses and projects,” Xiao said. “We noticed that there wasn’t a way of finding research opportunities holistically — you had to check department by department.”
Students interviewed noted that there is a lack of guidance when deciding how to participate in research projects. Jain called the current process “very opaque,” adding that different departments often have disparate ways of organizing information. Some faculty members showcase their work on personal webpages rather than departmental sites, Jain said.
Xiao said that the RDB also addresses another challenge for students seeking faculty mentors: locating professors involved with interdisciplinary research. Xiao described the previous search process as time-consuming with many gaps, adding that it was easy to miss a faculty member whose work is not affiliated with an expected department.
“Many faculty members are interested in being research mentors to undergraduates,” said Yale College Dean of Science Education Carl Hashimoto, who is one of YURA’s faculty advisers. “So if they knew that students were using the YURA research database in their search for potential research advisors, they may be more motivated to keep their website research information up-to-date in order to pique the interest of students.”
In order to address these issues, YURA assembled a project team in order to build a more user-friendly, comprehensive database. Led by Peter Wang ’18, the group began discussing in January how to implement its project. The team spent the rest of the spring semester and summer compiling faculty information from departmental websites and coding the website, Wang said.
In addition to soliciting student advice throughout the development process, Wang said, YURA consulted with many Yale administrators — including the director of undergraduate studies for every department — to create a database that best fit the needs of the Yale community.
Xiao added that in building the database, YURA hoped to take advantage of Yale’s strength in the liberal arts and emphasize research in the humanities and social sciences, as well as STEM.
“There’s nothing in the definition of the word ‘research’ that says it’s a STEM-only term or experience,” Wang said. “People in academia in every single field — humanities, social sciences, arts and STEM — do research of some kind, so we really wanted to make sure the database is useful for all Yale College students.”
While the RDB is primarily geared toward undergraduate students, the resource is accessible to anyone with a Yale NetID. Steven Girvin, the deputy provost for research, noted that the RDB is also valuable for faculty members who want to find opportunities for collaboration.
According to Wang, YURA confirmed listed information with every professor in the database in the weeks leading up to RDB’s release. The team also conducted beta testing among student users, he added.
“My first impression of the database was that it looked really clean and inviting,” said Hieronimus Loho ’18, a psychology major and one of the beta testers. “The interface was very well-designed, and navigating the website seemed really intuitive.”
Emon Datta ’18, a computer science major, said she especially appreciated that RDB users can sort information by keyword, outside of the standard department and name search functions. In addition to searching for research opportunities, Datta said that she hopes to use the RDB to connect with professors who can provide support for her extracurricular activities.
The Yale Undergraduate Research Association’s next major initiative is organizing the University’s first intercollegiate research conference for undergraduates, to be held starting Feb. 11.