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Research at Smith

Student doing research in a science lab

Undergraduate research extends learning beyond the classroom, providing students with exciting opportunities to investigate pressing questions in science. At the heart of the Smith experience is active engagement, driven by faculty-mentored research across a wide variety of academic disciplines. About half of Smith’s STEM majors conduct research with Smith professors. By joining a research lab, students gain authentic experience applying the scientific method, are exposed to the greater scientific community and contribute to long-term discovery.

Before getting started in research, consider why you are hoping to do research. Research is a great way to get hands-on experience working in research teams, but it can also be a substantial time commitment. There are different ways to conduct research on campus—for example, as a volunteer in a lab, for academic (special studies) credit, as a work-study job, or as a summer (SURF) or senior year thesis project.

Types of Research
 

Research scholarships

The AEMES and STRIDE programs at Smith provide a limited number of funded research opportunities on campus to incoming students during their first and second years.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a good lower-commitment way to explore whether research in a particular lab is a good fit for you and to get to know the topics and process in that lab.

SURF

Smith students can apply to conduct 10-week Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) in research labs across campus.

Special Studies

Smith offers 1-4 credits for supervised independent research projects during the academic year. Research students conduct special studies research in labs across campus.

Work-Study

A limited number of work-study paid research opportunities are available for eligible students in select labs.

 

Senior Honors Thesis

A senior thesis is a yearlong project that allows students to engage in all aspects of the research process at length. These projects are often the culmination of research started in the sophomore or junior year, and/or summer SURF research. Students with financial need can apply to the McKinley Honors Fellowship Program.


Issa Susa ’22 and Yara Faour ’22

Thanks to Issa Susa ’22 (AEMES) and Yara Faour ’22 (STRIDE) for providing “Getting Started” content, and Dominica Cao ’20 and Lauren Kim ’20 for helping with the design for this research website. This site is maintained by Annaliese Beery and Lisa Mangiamele.

Deciding to Pursue Research

Why Do You Want To Do Research?

If you are interested in learning more about a particular STEM subject, are excited about hands-on-learning, teamwork, data analysis and scientific discovery, are curious about applying what you learned in class to real-world issues, or are wondering about a possible career path in science, then you should consider making a research experience a part of your Smith career.

If you feel unsure about whether you want to do research ("Is it possible to get into med school/grad school without a lot of research experience? Is it OK not to do research and still major in STEM?" Tip: The answer to both of these questions is 'yes'), or if you want to know more about what research at Smith entails, then speak with your major adviser or another student researcher to find out more before committing. 

Time Commitment

Doing research is like having another class or job. You may spend several hours a day reading and writing about your topic, doing hands-on work, collaborating with others, or preparing for a presentation. Evaluate your course and extracurricular commitments, and make sure that you are ready to dedicate time and mental energy to a project that you are passionate about.

If you are unsure about how much time you have for an additional commitment, you can still get exposure to research by taking courses that have a lab or research-based component. Many courses in the sciences are project-based and provide research opportunities as part of the regular curriculum. Look for courses in your major that have the words “Laboratory,” “Research,” "Methods," or “Capstone” in the title. Be sure to talk with your major adviser prior to fall/spring registration about your interest in doing course-based research; they can help steer you toward the best courses for your particular research interests.

Another option is to participate in paid research with Smith faculty during the summer by applying to SURF. Students who do summer research often continue working on their project during the academic year.

Recommendations for Emailing Professors

  • Read about their research on their webpage.
  • Use a formal title in all emails: Dear Dr., Dear Professor
  • Be concise but specific about why you are interested in their research area. Don’t send a form letter.
  • Explain why research is important to your career goals.
  • Say how much time you can commit.
  • Ask to schedule a meeting, or to attend office hours or a lab meeting.
  • Include a CV/resume or describe prior experience.
  • Be brave! Email early, email often. If you don’t get a response, it’s OK to send the same email again.
  • Don’t decide not to pursue a research opportunity because of your GPA. Enthusiasm often matters more!
  • Don’t take an initial “no” personally. It’s often just bad timing. Keep trying!
  • Read more about how to email a professor about research opportunities.

What Students Advise

On approaching professors

“If you’re interested in a professor’s research, don’t be scared to ask about it.”—Nadia Aman
 ’20

“Don’t take it personally if a professor says no. There are so many professors that would love to have students here for research.”—Katie Fairbank ’21

On a typical day in the lab

“[The biggest misconception is] that you have to know what you’re doing before coming in [and] that you have to have experience. You learn once you get to the lab. There are so many people who can support you.”—Bethlehem (Beth) Yigzaw ’19

“I think you definitely have to be resilient. [There are] a lot of long days in the lab where things just don’t go your way, so you have to bounce back quickly. Every day is a new day in the lab. I think you have to be willing to find out what you don’t know on a topic ... and have enough courage to ask questions.”—Lauren Bondi ’19

On what research taught me

“I’ve definitely learned how to work with other people. Working on a team is a big part of research.”—Michelle Flesaker
 ’22

“[Research is] a way for me to bring both things that I’m interested in together and look at them through a different lens. It taught me how to do that ... and also how to find resources [to help me make progress].”—Meg Johnson ’19

Students Talk

“I’ve definitely learned how to work with other people. Working on a team is a big part of research.”
Michelle Flesaker ’22

 

“Curiosity and willingness to ask questions is what’s really important. You don’t have to come into research with a lot of previous knowledge on the subject.”
Michelle Flesaker ’22

“You know, when you like what you’re doing, it’s not time-consuming.”
Isidora Stankovic
 ’20