Last Thursday, the Yale Undergraduate Research Association released an updated version of its research database, a comprehensive directory of faculty research opportunities available to undergraduates in the Yale community.

The first version of the YURA Research Database was launched in October 2016 and has since accumulated more than 3,000 distinct users who can search through close to 1,500 faculty listings. To access the database, students must provide a NetID and password, which enable them to enter keywords and filter through academic departments to personalize searches. The updated version includes several new features, such as a favorites option, which allows students to save faculty listings they would like to return to in the future.

The development of the second version of the database was spearheaded by Nicole Eskow ’19. She worked closely with Suryabrata Dutta ’18, one of the co-founders of YURA and now a senior adviser for the organization, as well as Peter Wang ’18, another leader of the project. These three leaders, along with a core team of students, had been working on the second version of the database since last year.

“Developing the database was a really big effort because when you put a project out there, you want to make sure it’s actually working and that it’s going to work for everyone,” Eskow said. “We really value the ability for people to pursue independent research in all fields, so we really think this database provides an amazing opportunity for them.”

In addition to the new favorites option, the updated version also boasts new faculty listings to reflect the faculty members currently present at Yale, as well as a more comprehensive search algorithm.

Wang, who was in charge of developing the user interface of the database, including the favorites feature, said his main goal in the new update was to make the faculty search engine more convenient and efficient for students.

“We definitely had a complete improvement in the second version,” he said. “We revamped the entire interface of [the database] to make it more neat, more user-friendly, more intuitive and more flexible to the different kinds of displays that students are using.”

Although his team made many improvements to the second version, Wang added, the database was already a valuable resource in the Yale community, as the faculty search process was time-consuming before the database launched.

Stephen Wang ’19, a co-president of the association who oversaw the team that developed the second version of the database, said that what sets the database apart from other methods of finding research opportunities at Yale is that it contains readily available information from across all academic departments.

“In some sense, we’ve made what I like to think of as a Google of research at Yale, because that’s what we set out to do,” he said. “It’s a search engine, it’s a centralized hub of information and that’s what makes [the database] a very unique resource for undergraduates.”

Sandy Chang ’88, the associate dean of science education, said the database is “a godsend,” because it makes it much easier for students to find research opportunities they are interested in on a large campus.

Chang also emphasized the importance of pursuing independent research for students interested in STEM fields.

“I’ve always proposed for students to get into labs as soon as possible,” he said. “Once a student gets to the lab, starts figuring out what they can do and experiences that kind of joy and excitement, then they’ll want to continue pursuing STEM in their four years in college and beyond.”

He added that although the database is primarily geared toward undergraduate students, it could potentially help professors from vastly different departments connect with one another as well.

Stephen Wang stressed that the database is a useful resource because it promotes research opportunities in all fields, including the humanities and social sciences, not just in STEM.

“There’s definitely a preconceived way of thinking that research is specifically oriented towards STEM students,” he said. “But that’s really not true. There are so many opportunities that are non-STEM related but are really important to be researched.”

Since its release last year, the database has garnered support from students across multiple disciplines.

Among those students is Kai DeBus ’18, who is double majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology and history of science, medicine and public health. DeBus said that he used the database to find an opportunity to do wet-laboratory research for his senior thesis. For him, the database was both easy to use and effective in helping him find what he wanted.

“I don’t know of any resource that performs a similar function, and I think the fact that [the database] consolidates all this information into one location has been really helpful for me,” he said. “It’s definitely made research opportunities a lot more accessible for all students.”

YURA was founded in January 2015.

Amber Hu