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Undergrads With Research Experience More Likely to Earn an Advanced Degree

/ Published April 12, 2010

More than 40 years ago, Smith College launched a Summer Research Fellows (SURF) program to give students the experience to succeed in pursuing advanced degrees, particularly in the sciences. And new research indicates that the program is working.

Smith sophomore Tanya Hakim found summer research fellows had nearly twice the odds of completing an advanced degree relative to those students who did not participate in the program.

“Because Smith provides financial support to the program, it is crucial to understand whether it increases the likelihood students will successfully pursue an advanced degree in the sciences,” said Hakim. “This information is also helpful and interesting for students to consider.”

Hakim will present her findings as part of the college’s annual research symposium, Celebrating Collaborations, on Saturday, April 17, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., Campus Center second floor. The findings will also be shared at a nationwide higher education meeting this summer by Cate Rowen, Smith’s director of institutional research and educational access.

Hakim analyzed data collected by the Smith College Alumnae Survey of about nearly 800 women who graduated from the college between 1974 and 2007.

The survey queried Smith alumnae on such information as academic major, post-graduate education, current vocation and ethnicity as well as whether they had participated in a Summer Research Fellowship.

More than 100 students are expected to receive stipends to support their independent research this summer. As part of the program, they will gain experience in both presenting and writing up their research findings.

Although the study was limited to Smith students who participated in SURF, the findings inform the conversation about whether there are experiences that increase the odds of earning an advanced degree. Further studies on broader populations now need to be done.

Hakim was able to do the study with the support of another Smith program that facilitates student research. She worked with Nicholas Horton, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, as a STRIDE (Student Research in Departments) scholar during the academic year. That program offers paid research positions to high-achieving students during their first two years at Smith.