When Sandy Chang ’88, the associate dean of science and quantitative reasoning education, assumed his role in April of 2017, he wanted to increase the funding of undergraduate research at Yale.
Over the past year and a half, Chang and his office did just that — since his appointment, the funding rate of research has increased by 90 percent for first years and by 15 percent for upper-level students.
Last summer, Yale spent almost a million dollars, supporting around 260 Yale undergraduates with their on-campus summer research projects, according to Chang. On average, Yale was able to award each student $4,300 to fund 10 weeks of research in New Haven.
“I will say that the research climate here has improved vastly under Dean Chang’s deanship,” said former Yale Undergraduate Research Association president Nicole Eskow ’19. “Under him, there’s been a huge expansion of how many people are getting fellowships. I think that the excitement over science and scientific research has really been blossoming over the last couple of years.”
Chang’s office collaborated with the YURA to give undergraduates more opportunities to showcase their work. By creating cash prizes for the top presenters and finding relevant faculty judges for the symposium, Chang helped YURA expand their Yale Undergraduate Research Symposium, also known as YURS, from 20 presenters in 2017 to 39 presenters in 2018, according to Eskow.
He also encourages students to use YURA’s Research Database, a list of all the individuals currently doing research on campus, to find a research placement. And just last week, Chang also organized a matchmaking event for undergraduates and Yale professors, during which the professors gave pitches of their research projects to about 300 undergraduates.
“My goal has always been to try to get as many first years into labs as possible because I think an early research experience is of crucial importance to the development of a scientist,” Chang said.
He strives to achieve that goal through Yale College’s First-Year Summer Research Fellowship in the Sciences & Engineering. Under that program, first years identify a Yale faculty member with whom they would like to work, and they collaborate with that mentor to craft a research proposal. Yale faculty then evaluate and rank those proposals. Chang’s office funds the proposals that end up in the top 50 percent of the pile while the bottom 10 percent are rejected immediately, Chang said. The remaining 40 percent of proposals are placed on a waitlist in case some proposals in the top 50 percent do not work out.
The students who receive funding under the program work in a Yale lab on an independent project with mentorship from a Yale professor and postdoctoral fellows. Additionally, these first years participate in the six-week “Entering Research” program over the summer, which consists of weekly meetings in which the students learn about the skills necessary to become scientists.
Chang has also prioritized the expansion of the STARS — short for Science, Technology and Research Scholars — program. STARS was designed to support “women, minority, economically underprivileged and other historically underrepresented students” in the STEM fields, according to the program’s website. Last October, eight STARS participants exhibited their work at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science national conference on Yale’s dime. Chang’s office is currently raising funds so that each student that takes part in the program has the ability to go and present their work at a conference, Chang said.
Marcus Shallow ’22, who is interested in STEM, told the News that STARS has been “one of the biggest academic highlights” of his time at Yale so far.
Still, there remain students who think Yale could do better in its undergraduate science endeavors.
“I think the vast majority of research opportunities at Yale are very positive, and undergraduates serve to benefit greatly [from them],” said current co-president of YURA Anna-Sophia Boguraev ’20. “The problem arises from things like a lack of publicity [that] used to be an absence of funding — though in recent years the new fellowships available have begun to help alleviate that concern — and [from a lack of] an established structure in place to help newer students make use of these resources in a way that isn’t intimidating.”
Chang was appointed to his position as associate dean by former Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway.
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