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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.

General Guidelines

Students in most departments/programs typically find research opportunities by contacting specific faculty members whose research is of interest. See information on emailing your professors in the “Getting Started” section below.

Physics

The Physics department has a Google form students can complete if they are interested in pursuing research, where you can indicate multiple professors whose research interests you. The department then tries to match students with faculty who have positions available.


Biology

The Biological Sciences deparment has a Google Form that students can complete if they are interested in doing research with BIO faculty but have yet to join a research group or connect with a faculty research advisor. The department will review all forms and do our best to match students with faculty who have positions available for SURF and academic-year research opportunities. 

Michael Barresi (BIO/NSC) | Lab Website | Developmental biology, neurogenesis, neuron-glia interactions

Annaliese Beery (PSY/NSC/BIO) | Lab Website | Behavioral neuroscience, social bond formation, sex differences, neuroendocrinology

Reid Bertone-Johnson (LSS) | Lab Website | Parks, bicycles, bikes, alternative transportation, pop-up, tactical urbanism, urban design, Northampton

David Bickar (CHM/NSC/BCH) | Protein structure, neurochemistry, Parkinson’s Disease

Alicia Grubb (CSC/SDS) | Personal Website | Requirements and software engineering, ethics, decision support

Andrew Guswa (EGR) | Hydrology, water, water resources, mathematical modeling

Mary Harrington (NSC/PSY) | Lab Website | Circadian rhythms, light

Virginia Hayssen (BIO/NSC) | Evolution of mammalian reproduction, pleiotropy, species descriptions

Nick Howe (CSC) | CS pageResearch | Handwriting recognition, document analysis, computer vision, machine learning, digital humanities

Laura Katz (BIO) | Lab Website | Genome evolution and biodiversity of eukaryotic microbes, bioinformatics

Katherine Kinnaird (CSC/SDS) | Personal Website | Music information retrieval, machine learning, cultural analytics, data science education

Courtney Lannert (PHY) | Computational physics, condensed matter, quantum physics, atomic physics

Jack Loveless (GEO) | Lab Website | Earthquakes, plate tectonics, natural disasters

Lisa Mangiamele (BIO/NSC) | Lab Website | Animal behavior, physiology, evolution of the nervous system

Sara Pruss (GEO) | Lab Website | Earth history, geobiology, ancient life and environments, paleontology

Joseph O'Rourke (CSC/MTH) | CS PageComputational geometry, philosophy of artificial intelligence, primarily academic-year research

Joyce Palmer-Fortune (PHY) | Thin films, electron microscopy, microstructure

Ileana Streinu (CSC/MTH) | CS PageLab Website | Computational geometry, algorithms, rigidity theory, kinematics and robotics with applications in computational biology (biomolecular/protein flexibility and motion), materials (metamaterials), and crystallography

Will Williams (PHY) | Lab Website | Atomic physics, spectroscopy, testing fundamental theories

 

Faculty who work with student researchers can fill in their lab information here or email Annaliese Beery. This list is not yet complete!

Many research opportunities are never advertised or posted. Students can find out more about some of the active labs on campus under the Research Labs tab, and see the “Getting Started” information below about how to inquire about research projects.

Other projects are posted here. Each of these projects was proposed by a faculty member in the current year.

Faculty Member

Project

Alexandra Strom

Research in organometallic chemistry

Alicia Grubb

Studies of software developers and analysts

Ben Baumer

Modern data science with R

Bosiljka Glumac

Response of local rivers and streams to flooding

Bosiljka Glumac

Geoscience Collections—Reimagined

Courtney Lannert

Quantum dot motion modeling

John Brady

Geoscience Collections—Reimagined

Joyce Fortune

Thermometer microstructure—we are looking at thin film thermometers in the electron microscope because the mictrostructure determines how the thermometer works. In this project you will learn how to make Transmission electron microscopy samples and how to use the electron microscope to see the hidden microstructure of these thin film thermometers.

Joyce Fortune

Art and physics—visualizing the work of Prof. Gladys Anslow. This project crosses disciplinary boundaries and will take place in at least 3 parts. Part 1 - You will do research in the college archives and learn everything we can learn about Prof Glays Anslow, first(?) woman to be a professor of Physics at Smith College nearly 100 years ago. Part 2 You will learn the physics that she worked on here at Smith as an undergraduate and then masters student, and also learn about her PHD work at Yale, and then finally her research with smith students in the 1920's and beyond. Part 3 - Longer Term -We have a large collection of her research results on black and white lantern slides (the powerpoint of her day) and we would like to make a partnership with an artist to make a creative display/sculpture/panorama art peice tieing the life and work of this extraordinary woman for long-term display in the science center. This part will require outreach to the art department and artists, as well as to the science center administration and possibly facilities to assure that the art installation meets the standards for durability of a public art piece.

Julianna Tymoczko

Graduate School 101

Kevin Shea

Steroid-like molecule synthesis

Nalini Easwar

Portable Physics

Nathanael Fortune

Phase transitions in superconductors

Nathanael Fortune

Muon detector

Nicholas Howe

Pattern recognition for historic manuscripts


Getting Started

Two students in the Dorsey circuit lab

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.

Is Research For You?

Ask yourself the following questions to find out if doing research at Smith is a good match for you:

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. 

Do you have enough time for another 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