Each year, numerous Wellesley students go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct research in multiple subjects, from the sciences to the humanities. This phenomenon is barely a surprise; MIT is a research university hosting top phd programs, while Wellesley is a small liberal arts college known for the quality of teaching and interactive classroom environments.
Among the various research opportunities is the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which allows students to work on a project with a faculty member and learn about the research environment. UROP students can choose to research for credit, volunteer, or for pay in certain cases. According to the MIT UROP office, the number of Wellesley students performing research at MIT is sharply rising every year. During the 2015-2016 academic year, 200 Wellesley students registered for a UROP, an increase from 181 in the 2014-2015 year, and an even greater rise from 145 in 2013-2014. While the migration of students to MIT leads one to assume there is a lack of opportunity for research at Wellesley, the contrary is proven to be true.
For a college of its size, Wellesley boasts a sufficient number of programs, including the Sophomore Early Research program, which gives a stipend of $2000 to students work on research projects in the natural and social sciences. Wellesley also provides summer research opportunities, giving Summer Research Awards to students interested in working with faculty members. In addition, the Wellesley College research page provides a list of Professors currently seeking student researchers for their projects.
Despite the rich opportunities at both institutions, the nature of research between them is different. The uniqueness of the experience at each school prompts curious Wellesley students to search for specialized opportunities according to their needs and interests.
Sarah Moinuddeen, a pre-med sophomore, is currently performing research at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT. She works with tissue samples to discover methods to increase drug delivery in the gastrointestinal tract, and focuses on the potential medical benefits of innovative ultrasound techniques. Her research was initially a summer opportunity, but she enjoyed the experience and now goes to MIT every Friday during the academic year.
“One of the things that Wellesley has to offer is its proximity to Boston, which offers an abundance of resources. And it’s important to take advantage of that,” Moinuddeen commented.
Wellesley students should not limit their opportunities to campus, but explore the greater Boston hub of knowledge. One of the reasons Moinuddeen chose MIT for research is because of the specialization of studies there. “You can be more specific in what you’re interested in,” she notes. “They offer more different types of research, and you would be working with forty people instead of say, twenty. There are a lot of diversified opportunities.”
Emily Moss ‘19, an Economics major, affirms that the specialization of MIT’s departments helped her discover her passion for Urban Studies. At MIT, she works as an undergraduate research assistant in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Her research includes investigating the impact of transitoriented urban development on community health in metropolitan Boston neighborhoods, and she enjoys assisting at community meetings and analyzing data. “So far, it’s been wonderful and has more than confirmed my interests in urban policy and academic research.” She enjoys Wellesley’s partnership with MIT, since Urban Studies is a department that does not exist at Wellesley.
MIT offers a diverse array of resources in not only STEM fields, but in the social sciences and humanities as well. Tiffany Chung, a senior majoring in IR-Political Science, has done research in the Political Science, Public Health, and Economics department at MIT. “I’ve appreciated that they’re often able to provide funding. More significantly, there is a structure in place to get credit or money for research you do. I’m currently doing an independent study at Wellesley, but it is very much a personal project instead of contributing to a Wellesley professor’s research, and I would have cherished the opportunity to do so.”
Seeking resources off campus is not without challenges. Common issues include time, the commute, and the bureaucracy of cross -registering at another institution. In order to register for a UROP, Wellesley students must submit multiple forms to both the MIT office and Wellesley’s office of the registrar. This can be a grueling process for inexperienced students. Moss notes that in general, being a non-MIT student presents some communication barriers.
“It would be a lot easier if I could drop by the professor’s office whenever I had a quick question so it can make the research dynamic a bit more distanced. If you plan ahead for your day, though, I don’t find the commute too bad,” Moss commented. “Overall, I think it just takes a little extra effort to establish a solid line of communication and work relationship with the team, but in the long run I think it’s worth it.”
Moinuddeen also believes that despite the difficulty of the process, research at a different intuition can be manageable. “If you go to MIT, make sure that it is worth your time,” she advises. “Every minute needs to count, if you’re over there, you’d better be learning something.”
“I don’t think Wellesley necessarily lacks research opportunities,” Moss stated. She has also worked as a research assistant through the Case Fellowship program in the Economics Department this past summer. Programs similar to hers do exist for other departments at Wellesley. “Quite a few professors are willing to take on student researchers if you take the initiative and ask.”
The main difference between Wellesley and at MIT is then the visibility of the research programs. Wellesley students must take on an active role of seeking positions while MIT presents them more directly to students. Moinuddeen also agrees that there are plenty of research opportunities at Wellesley, but wishes that it were easier to discover them. “Students may feel like there is nothing going on,” she echoes the sentiments of many.