While all colleges and universities have access to research programs, some have a larger variety of programs from which students can pick. Wellesley College, a small liberal arts college, has a relatively limited amount of programs available, and those that exist are not well advertised. If a Wellesley student is set to get a research position, they need to look outside Wellesley to do so.
Many students at Wellesley argue that they do not have sufficient access to research programs. Tiffany Chung ’17, a student who worked at an MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) over the summer, states, “Most professors at Wellesley do not take on researchers, which makes it difficult for students to participate.” Furthermore, she adds, “It is also quite difficult to find funding with no clear avenues to do so as there is no research office or direct funding.” On the other hand, some students point to Wellesley’s size and argue that they have reasonable access to research programs for a small liberal arts college. Violet Kozloff ’17, a student participating in an MIT UROP, says, “While there are definitely fewer opportunities for research through the college itself in comparison to larger universities, Wellesley professors make sure that their students know about these programs and are supportive in finding off- campus or summer opportunities.”
On campus, there are definitely departments where it is easier for students to obtain a research position. Tiffany, who is a political science major, complains that political science professors seldom advertise for Research Assistants. Tiffany is right — it is definitely easier for some majors to find research programs. For example, chemistry majors are required to take at least one semester of independent study with most majors completing more research than that. In fact, most sciences, such as chemistry, psychology, computer science and economics, have more research opportunities available. Furthermore, most of these research programs are very specific to the field and are associated with teachers from those departments, which means that usually only majors know about them and have access to them. This imbalance at Wellesley results in students turning to research opportunities outside of Wellesley.
In fact, most research for Wellesley students take place off campus. Seldom does one hear about any Wellesley students involved in on-campus programs outside of independent study classes. As such, most students that participate in such programs do so off-campus. Due to Wellesley’s cross-registration program with MIT, there are many research opportunities available through UROPs, which are fairly easy to obtain regardless of one’s discipline. Most students turn to MIT UROPs or Harvard research programs before even consulting Wellesley professors, as they expect professors to turn them down. Tiffany adds, “Every research project I have been involved in has been at MIT/ Harvard, even though I would like to partner with Wellesley professors and work here instead.” Violet agrees with this by also turning to her own experience: “I look to MIT UROPs for programs during the year and look to other universities for summer research.” Research opportunities within Wellesley need to be actively sought, where most students have to email many professors inquiring about possible research opportunities. Other schools, such as Berkeley or Harvard, provide streamlined and obvious ways to get research opportunities, as professors widely advertise their projects and all research programs have websites and clear application directions.
The lack of Wellesley research opportunities is detrimental to students, as such programs both provide students the ability to learn important skills that they will need for future employability, but also enable students to pursue their academic interests in a more focused way outside of the classroom. All recruitment companies and visiting alums emphasize the importance of getting out of the classroom and pursuing projects. By doing so, a student is able to both better understand what they are interested in and discuss their project and accomplishments during interviews. Furthermore, by making it necessary for students to commute to Boston in order to fulfill their research interests, they end up wasting hours on the exchnage bus that could be used in a more productive manner.
While Wellesley has amazing professors, its research facilities in certain disciplines are lacking and come second to MIT or Harvard’s facilities. This is the result of its size, but also the culture of the school. If professors are not encouraged to give research opportunities to students, they certainly will not do so. As such, Wellesley should work on fostering more research programs, support professors who give students such opportunities and advertise the already existing programs to a greater extent as to provide all students with a larger variety of research opportunities.
Photo Courtesy of The Wellesley Snowglobe