April 18, 2019 | 60° F

Rutgers offers competitive research opportunities for STEM undergraduates


Courtesy of Aresty Research Center | Matt Flanagan, sophomore tight end for Rutgers football, and assistant research professor Patricia Buckendahl at the 2014 Aresty Summer Science Program.

Rutgers received $302 million in externally sponsored research grants and contracts in 2013, according to the University’s research website. 

It is not surprising then that more than 60 percent of undergraduates conduct collective or independent research during their time at the University, according to Rutgers admissions’ website.

It is also the only New Jersey member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a premier higher education consortium of top-tier research institutions. 

The Committee on Institutional Cooperation is the academic conglomerate of the universities in the Big Ten Conference as well as its former conference member, the University of Chicago. 

Rutgers is renowned for its research opportunities. Science, technology engineering and math students could take the initiative to supplement their undergraduate experience by getting involved in research. 

Emily Fitzgerald, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said undergraduate research is an amazing opportunity for all disciplines, but particularly for students in STEM fields.

“STEM classes tend to be very theoretical, and actually doing research allows students to ground what they have learned and apply the skills they learned in the classroom to something real,” she said.

Some students realize they love research and decide to pursue a career in research after their first experience, she said. Other students find out they hate it and alter their career plans accordingly.

“Either way, research is an eye-opening experience that teaches students about their field and about themselves,” said Fitzgerald, a peer instructor at Aresty Research Center, a Rutgers organization founded in 2004 that promotes research opportunities for undergraduates. 

Applying material learned in the classroom to real life allows STEM majors to further consolidate their knowledge and help them assess if research is a viable career option. 

One option for undergraduate students is the Aresty Research Center. 

According to the center’s website, more than 1,000 students and 300 faculty have worked under the center since its inception.

The center has programs for several grades. The Aresty Summer Science Program caters to rising sophomores with no required research experience or minimum GPA. During the year, the Aresty-Byrne seminars combine learning with research. They are open exclusively to first-year students.

For upperclassmen, the Aresty Research Assistant Program provides opportunities to conduct research during the school year. At the conclusion of the project, the students present at the Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Another way to get involved with research is to directly email professors and ask to volunteer in their lab. Rutgers has more than 175 centers and institutions across all subjects for students to pursue their interests, according to the Rutgers research website.

Masanori Hara, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, said via email that students can do research in specific courses, such as the 3-credit “Special Problems Research in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering” courses in his department. 

Others volunteer in a laboratory, he said.

“Usually, students write to a potential professor if he [or] she can accept the student and when both agree, the student can work,” he said via email.

Another means of pursuing research is to take research-based courses, Hara said.

Some departments offer “independent studies” in which research is used for credit. 

Meanwhile, various centers and small programs provide a chance for select undergraduates. For example, the Research in Science and Engineering Program chooses 50 undergraduates from across the nation to work at a 10-week project, according to its website.

Taufeeq Ahamed, undergraduate researcher for Waksman Institute of Microbiology, said research has helped him to realize the value of producing knowledge that others can gain from.

“In classrooms, you learn from a textbook. In research, you’re helping to write one,” said Ahamed, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. 

Akhmad Ernazarov

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