Summer research opportunities see few program changes this year

Like every year, many students will remain on campus this summer to conduct research at the College. These students work within the various departments, often alongside professors, and receive compensation for their work. While the past few years have seen a decrease in research funding, there will be no significant changes to the number of students doing research this summer or to the funding provided to the various programs.

Summer research is a keystone of Div. III departments. While numbers will not be finalized for some time, Professor of Physics Tiku Majumder, the head of Div. III research this year, said he expects between 150 and 175 students to pursue science research projects with faculty members this summer. “This number is quite comparable to those of the past few years,” Majumder said. “Over the past decade or two, this number has risen significantly, in part due to the increase in science faculty size and number of student majors in these departments.”

The vast majority of these students will be on campus for nine or 10-week summer research internships. Ten weeks is the maximum amount of time for which a student can be granted a stipend. The weekly stipend is $380, and students also receive free housing at the College.

The number of students conducting research in each of the Div. III departments ranges from five to over 30 each year. The mathematics/statistics, biology and chemistry departments have the most student researchers each year, according to Majumder.

Funding for Div. III research remains a mixture of College funding and external grants from organizations such as the National Science Foundation. “This year, external support accounts for roughly 40 percent of the total cost of the summer program,” Majumder said.

Each department makes a decision about the number of stipends to request based on the available space in faculty research groups, according to Majumder. Not all students who apply for research internships are granted positions due to limited spaces available, but Majumder noted, “A number of Williams science students are pursuing a wide range of summer research opportunities at other institutions.” The department requests are then brought to the Science Center funding committee, which “considered all departmental requests and was pleased to be able to find support for all department requests this year,” he said.

Div. I and II research is managed by the Dean of the Faculty’s office. Associate Dean of the Faculty John Gerry said that students do not apply with their own research proposals; rather, faculty members apply to the Dean of the Faculty’s office for the funding necessary to employ students as their research assistants (RAs) for the summer.

Applications are still arriving, but Gerry expects funding will be granted for 25 to 30 RAs this summer. The number of applications has increased over the past two years, to the point where not all students could be funded. However, the number of RAs that are funded has increased to 30 in 2009 and 29 in 2010. “One way that we were able to increase the number of funded projects over the past two years, despite the economic downturn, was through the use of endowments that allow for this kind of activity,” Gerry said. “In addition, the Class of 1957 provided a very generous gift which supports 19 to 20 of these partnerships each summer.”

“I would like to see faculty-student summer research activity continue to grow,” Gerry said. “It’s a win-win proposition. The faculty are provided with motivated students to help advance their scholarship, and the students are provided with an intensive learning experience.”

Gerry added that other Div. I and II faculty employ students independent of this program, using available grant or divisional research funds.
The nine-week SMALL Undergraduate Research Project allows undergraduates to do research in mathematics. It is the largest program of its kind in the nation. Susan Loepp, professor of mathematics and this year’s SMALL director, said that about 30 students will participate in the program this summer. Twenty-nine students participated in the program last summer.
Six faculty members are advising SMALL groups this summer compared to seven last summer. Students from other colleges and universities also participate in SMALL. According to Loepp, funding comes from a grant from the National Science Foundation and from the Science Center at the College.
The Office of Special Academic Programs funds the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and the Williams College Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Funding for the former comes from the Mellon Foundation, although the College also provides many forms of institutional support, according to Molly Magavern, director of special academic programs. Exclusively the College provides funding for the latter fellowship. Each year, five sophomores are accepted for each of the fellowships.

The Office of Fellowships also provides summer travel research opportunities. These include the Lawrence Fellowship, offered to two to three students; the Wilmers Fellowship for 15 to 20 students, the World Fellowship for six to eight students and the Bostert Fellowship for three to four students. This year, the Office of Fellowships introduced a new summer language study fellowship, the Robert G. Wilmers Jr. 1990 Memorial Summer Language Study Fellowship.
As for the first four fellowships mentioned, according to Fellowship Coordinator Lynn Chick, it remains unclear how many projects the office will actually fund. Fifty-five application proposals have been submitted. All applicants propose budgets unique to their projects and travel expenses. This year, the total amount for all requests is over $220,000. “The selection committee is reading the proposals now,” Chick said. “They will meet and make their decisions before spring break.”