Every summer, students participate in on-campus research opportunities in various fields of study. There are three programs on campus that occur annually fully-funded: the Science Center Summer Research Program, the Summer Research Program in Social Sciences and the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) Anne Murray Ladd Student summer internship.
Established over fifteen years ago, the Science Center Summer Research Program is growing and will fund approximately 125 students this summer. Directed by Science Director Chair Cathy Summa, the program includes summer projects that represent all of the science disciplines offered at the College.
The program is open to all students who are interested in scientific research and runs for nine weeks, enabling students to work closely with a faculty member and learn scientific methods firsthand. The weekly schedules consists of interdepartmental talks (students from all science disciplines are invited) where faculty bring in outside presenters with different specialities.
In the past, the program has also organized a women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) career panel and workshops on ethics and public speaking. Additionally, students break off into their disciplines and attend departmental meetings, where faculty and students present on what their lab is investigating.
The application process opens in early February, and a list of summer projects is posted on MyWellesley. Prior to applying, the research program encourages students to contact the faculty supervisor. Science Center Office Manager JoNan Bilodeau explains that by establishing the contact with the faculty member, students are making themselves known and increase their chances of being successful in applying. Furthermore, no prior research experience is expected. Many first year students are accepted into the program.
Sara Eslami ’17 worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry David Haines last summer in an organic chemistry lab. She explained how this program taught her how stimulating, but challenging, research is.
“I think what I gained most from the summer program at Wellesley is an appreciation for the excitement research brings, especially when experiments work, but also for the determination necessary to carry out the scientific method,” Eslami said. “Sometimes things just don’t work and you have to figure out how to remedy the situation, which, although frustrating, is a very useful skill.”
Like the Science Center Summer Research Program, the Summer Research Program in Social Sciences pairs students with faculty supervisors. Directed by Associate Professor of Economics Casey Rothschild, the program funds thirteen student researchers who work one-onone with a professor in psychology, environmental studies, anthropology, political science, economics or religion.
The program hosts weekly seminars that are open to all social science student researchers. In the beginning of the program, faculty present on their research and discuss the differences and similarities between their various disciplines.
Later in the program, students present on what they have been working on. The weekly seminar meeting is also used as a workshop, where the program invites Library and Technology Services to present on resources and tools that will aid the student’s research. This includes workshops on how to use bibliographic tools, build a good poster and present effectively.
Unlike the Science Center Summer Research Program, the application process for the Summer Research Program in Social Sciences is informal. By the end of February, faculty who are willing to supervise a student and are approved will post a project description on the program’s website. Students reach out via email and can meet with the faculty member to learn more about the research. By early March, the faculty will elect the student they would like to work with.
Rose Owen ’16, who has worked with Professor of Political Science Marion R. Just, encourages students to apply even if they don’t know the professor personally.
“If you know you are interested in learning more about academia and possibly pursuing graduate school, there are many skills that you gain from this experience such as data analysis and the ability to conduct literature reviews,” Owen said. “Reach out and put yourself out there. Professors are happy to work with you. My one email has led me to work with Marion for two years.”
Additionally, many students in the science center and social science research programs continue their summer work during the academic year, which has the potential to become a honors thesis or publication.
Last summer, with permission of their supervisor, many social science student researchers also took the Quantitative Analysis Institute Summer Course (credit/non version of QR260) with Casey Pattanayak. This applied data analysis course is ungraded and free, offered to both science and social science research students. The interactive class takes place three times a week for three hour blocks and includes both lecture and in class practice with assignments.
Owen took the course last summer and explains how this course complimented her research.
“This was a very helpful experience in terms of advancing my knowledge of statistics. It also meant I can participate more in the data analysis that Marian was doing for her project,” Owen said. “I feel very confident using QR. I encourage everyone to take it.”
Whereas social science students are funded by an endowment from the College, science student researchers are grant funded. The number of student participants is capped by the available funds. All student researchers, including science and social science, receive a $1,350 compensation for housing and/ or transportation. The summer stipend is $3,250 for 35 to 40 hours per week and is distributed in three installments over the summer.
At the end of both programs, there is a combined poster session where students from both the science and social science research programs share their summer findings with other faculty, friends and family in the Science Center. Students from Framingham High School and the MIT/Wellesley Upward Bound Program also participate in the poster session. The Upward Bound program seeks to motivate students who are first generation and/or low-income, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The WCW also offers one summer internship and other student employment opportunities. With offices in the Waban House, Cheever House and the Stone Center, the WCW aims to improve gender equality, social justice and human well being. Summer internships this year can involve collaboration with Dr. Wendy Robeson, with whom an intern will pursue any topic related to child development, childcare, families and policy, or Dr. Linda Williams, whose intern will compare sexual violence case attrition across jurisdictions in the United States. The interns will work closely with one of the research scientists and aid in reading and analyzing data, conducting literature reviews, writing papers and presenting their findings at conferences such as Tanner. The internship opportunity is funded by the Anne Murray Ladd endowment, which was established in 2005 in honor of Anne Murray Ladd ’98. The student intern will receive a $3,000 stipend for her 35 hours per week. There is no stipend for housing.
Juliana Robeson ’16 interned last summer and worked with Dr. Hall, who at the time was researching how summer programs raise interest and awareness about pursuing STEM majors and careers among girls. As part of her summer experience, Robeson was able to make on-site observations and experience firsthand how researchers collect data and the different measures of quality used. Robeson values how closely WCW situates students with research scientists.
“It is great to meet all the researchers and talk to them about their career paths,” Robeson said. “If I had gone to a larger university, I would probably not get the chance to meet so many researchers and get to know them so closely.”
In contrast to the interns, a student employed over the summer may be expected to do a variety of tasks depending on what is needed. This includes entering data into databases, conducting literature reviews and filing.
Administrative Director Karen Lachance describes why working at WCW is great experience for students.
“Our students are a critical resource for many of our grants and have the opportunity to assist with tasks such as doing literature reviews, entering data, coding data, conducting interviews, assisting in analysis and other tasks,” Lachance said. “Some students end up presenting at conferences and seminars with their researcher and many have been named co-authors on papers.”
These three Wellesley sponsored programs attest to the College’s commitment to experiential learning. In addition to learning in the classroom, students are encouraged to seek other opportunities where they can apply and build on their skills.
Anushree Dugar ’18 who is working with Allene Lummis Russell Professor of Neuroscience Barbara Beltz explains that research has provided her with new skills and perspectives.
“Academically, conducting research at Wellesley has taught me so many skills that I would not be able to learn in the classroom,” Dugar said. “Research has therefore given me a new perspective on science that complements my academic experience by introducing me to current research in my field of interest.”