Verbum Ultimum: Restructuring Research

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/23/14 7:03pm

Despite the “college” in its name, Dartmouth is a research university. As we encourage post-doctoral students to come to Hanover through the Society of Fellows, we should reevaluate how the College approaches research at the undergraduate level.

The College recently introduced two new research programs, Stamps Scholars and First Year Research in Engineering, and these join a number of existing research opportunities -— presidential scholars, sophomore science scholarships, senior fellowships and the Women in Science Project. The next step is centralizing these opportunities and ensuring students know about them.

At a Steering Committee of the General Faculty meeting earlier this month, participants cited improving undergraduate research infrastructure and supporting more initiatives as a major priority. We agree.

Though Dartmouth’s undergraduate advising and research office has an undergraduate research database for students, the link is hidden away on the office’s website, and many projects are only available for presidential scholars. Given that there are only 195 projects listed, it’s doubtful this page reflects every research opportunity. We encourage Dartmouth to adopt a system like that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in which all undergraduate research is centralized through a database — where students sign up for positions that faculty then confirm.

While Dartmouth does not currently have a system like MIT’s, we do have a central database in place that students often access: Banner Student. Though the system desperately needs modernization, Banner currently houses go-to resources for students. We propose that the College incorporate the current undergraduate research online projects page into a campus-wide research database on Banner Student, so that students can check for new research opportunities as easily as they can review their DBA balances.

With a centralized research database on Banner Student, it would be much easier for administrators to evaluate the full scope of undergraduate research happening at the College. Around 600 students conduct research in connection with the undergraduate advising and research office each year, but the director of the undergraduate advising and research office, Margaret Funnell, said the total number of students who pursue research is hard to calculate. Experiential learning is one of College President Phil Hanlon’s banner campaigns. Quantifying the amount of research being conducted at the undergraduate level, possibly only if students register all research through a centralized system, could strengthen our image as an institution that prioritizes hands-on learning.

A database would also encourage interdisciplinary work. According to the undergraduate advising and research office website, it is up to each student to find a faculty member to work with. While initiative is certainly a virtue, it can be incredibly difficult for Dartmouth students to go on an intensive faculty mentor search on top of everything else that we do at this school — especially when you are a biology major who wants to work on an English literature research project.

The benefits of quantifying the research that we conduct cannot be overstated. Administrators would see how much and what type of research students are working on across departments. Using that information, deans and other advisors could more accurately guide and aid students toward opportunities and majors.

Strong ties between students and professors are a hallmark of the Dartmouth education. Expanding and centralizing undergraduate research opportunities will bolster these relationships and boost the College’s reputation as a place of cutting-edge and inclusive scholarship.