Rutgers undergraduates present research at 12th Annual Research Symposium


The Aresty Research Center offers students the chance to conduct research while still an undergraduate and present it to their peers and professors. 

More than 500 Rutgers undergraduates, who have worked with almost 300 professors, presented their research at the Center's 12th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium at the Livingston Student Center on April 29th, according to the symposium's program

Research projects cover a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, the social sciences and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Katie Pyott, program coordinator for the Aresty Research Center, is responsible for numerous aspects of the symposium’s success. She goes through the student-submitted abstracts, organizes the poster printing and coordinates the requisite space and numbering for the student’s posters.

Beginning in the spring, 350 students are admitted to the research assistant program and start their research in the fall, with programs running from September through April, she said.

All students attend peer group meetings, meeting with six to 10 students twice per month. Peer instructors and upperclassmen who have been through the program lead these meetings and answer questions the students may have, she said.

Brian Ballentine, the executive director of the Aresty Research Center, said the program is an important way for undergraduates to become exposed to research projects. 

“One major aim is to help students find their first research experience to take some of the guesswork out of where the research is on campus, and help them find structured first-experiences,” he said. “Sixty to 70 percent of the students here today are completing the research assistant program."

Bringing researchers from across the University together in one place enables them to interact with people they otherwise would not have come across, he said.

The effect of the research on the students is also evident, showing them what may or may not interest them in the future, Ballentine said.

“It helps you know what you like to do. It confirms your academic interests and it confirms your career interests," he said. "It helps you find mentors. It helps you understand what the task of research is, (and) how to balance all this stuff with course work.”

Neha Narayanan, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, worked on a project titled “Parental Experience Affects How the Brain Processes Social Auditory Information,” understanding the influence of parental experience on its reaction to a fledgling bird's calls. 

The researchers would play fledgling calls and note the bird’s response. In total there were 24 birds in the study, she said.

“In the beginning it was very new. I had never been in a lab before. I think what made it so great was to have so many good mentors in the lab," Narayanan said. "They were very much willing to look at what we didn’t know and teach us what was necessary.”

She helped collect and analyze data for a graduate student’s research, spending hours watching videos of zebra finches. The beginning phases of a researcher’s career often involve very monotonous work, she said.

Over time, the "big picture" becomes more clear, she said. Working in the lab becomes more than just doing busywork. 

Klesti Beqiri, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, studied how students with and without math learning difficulties would use the number line.

The researchers studied students in New Mexico, with a spread of students with and without math difficulties. The students were asked to locate fractions on the number line, he said.

“The same exam was given to students with math difficulties and those without. We wanted to see what the knowledge gap was between the two groups,” Beqiri said. “It was big, but it was actually bigger than we thought."

Administering the test required the proctors to follow the specific protocols set by the researchers, he said.

The study found that students did not understand what a unit represents. Throughout mathematics, units are relative based on what is given. Students could not differentiate between a 0 – 5 number line, and a 0 – 1 number line, he said.

“While working on this research, I came up with a new research question,” Beqiri said. “My next (study) will be based on why students lack the basic understanding of a unit … Now we have something else to work on.”

While only five hours are required each week, Beqiri put in more hours than necessary in order to finish the project early.

Hemapriya Dhanasekaran, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, worked on a project titled “Pseudotyping Alphavirus Sindbis onto Murine Leukemia Virus.”

It is helpful for students to have an advisor through the Aresty Program, as research assistants would meet in small groups, where students could ask beginner-level questions, she said.

“Communication can be really hard in a lab setting, especially if you’re intimidated,” she said.

Asiah Sharpe, a School of Arts and Sciences graduate, and Eurie Kim, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, studied how social media can help engage a new generation with classical music.

They investigated the connection between social media and classical music to determine what kind of support system could be established via social media. Additionally, they studied what kind of feedback could be given by the social media accounts.

“It was my first time doing research,” Kim said. “They definitely walk you through the steps of research, which is really helpful.”

The pair would share posts through a Facebook page and note an increase in follows, shares or likes, Sharpe said.

The Aresty program has other smaller presentations throughout the year, but nothing of the same magnitude as their culminating spring symposium, Ballentine said.

“(These are) really great students who are invested in the work they’re doing and have all sorts of intellectual passion for the work that they’re doing,” he said.


Faith Hoatson is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.


Faith Hoatson

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