Northwestern students, professors benefit from summer research assistant program

Claire Brown

As students begin to fret over summer plans and search for a résumé boost, the perfect opportunity might be closer than they think.

The Institute for Policy Research’s Summer Undergraduate Research Assistants Program has been connecting undergraduates with summer research positions since 1998.

The paid, 10-week program allows 25 to 35 undergraduates to work directly with a faculty member, said Patricia Reese, IPR’s director of communications.

“It gives students a hands-on experience with social science research,” she said.

Through 35 hours of work each week, students learn the intimate details of faculty research while making $10 an hour. Past projects have had students working with law professors, economists, social policy and education professors, anthropologists, sociologists and more, Reese said.

“It’s really a win-win situation,” said IPR Director Fay Lomax Cook. “Faculty members love the undergraduate research assistant program. They think our undergrads are terrific and really appreciate all the help they get.”

The program can be a great way to form a relationship with a faculty member and secure a good candidate for writing letters of recommendation, Cook said.

The experience has also triggered students to do further study, Reese said. Students sometimes continue working with the faculty member into the school year, co-authoring work or writing their senior thesis on an aspect of the research topic, she said.

“We’ve had students go on and do Ph.D.s in that area because they realized they loved it so much,” Reese said.

Last summer Manoj Budidha worked with Prof. Michelle Reininger, who studies education and social policy. The project examined teacher preparation programs in Chicago public schools, the SESP senior said.

Budidha said his research consisted of compiling information on the teachers and their rankings in order to make the hiring process more transparent.

“I continued into the fall and got academic credit to work 10 hours a week,” Budidha said.Because there is a lot of student interest, securing a research position can be competitive, Cook said.

“What we really look for is a student who’s really motivated to work with a faculty member, who really cares about research and thinks it’s important, and who’s an independent worker,” she said.

The application deadline for the program is April 5. To apply, students need to contact IPR but should also be in touch with specific faculty members, Cook said.

“They need to look over who IPR faculty fellows are and what kind of research they are doing,” she said, “(They should) write or call those faculty directly.”

Although undergraduate research wasn’t something Budidha had planned to do, it worked out well, he said.

“I was interested because there was someone at NU doing research in an area I’m really, really interested in,” he said. “It gave me skills in statistical analysis and working with data so I thought the experience was pretty important.” [email protected]

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