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New program aims to help undergraduates start research sooner

Having access to undergraduate research experiences is one of the key differences in getting a degree from a top-tier research institution like the University of Utah.

Working with faculty members and other students in a laboratory develops meaningful mentor relationships, helps students hone in on purposeful career paths and it can lead to quicker degree completion.

However, according to Annie Isabel Fukushima, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the director of the University of Utah’s Office of Undergraduate Research, it can be daunting for students to find a research position, and some miss the opportunity altogether because they wait too long. 

To address this issue, the Office of Undergraduate Research is launching a new program with a simple application designed to remove as many barriers as possible for students who want to find an undergraduate research opportunity.

“We created a program for helping students get connected to mentors early on so they can develop those relationships in a research dynamic and move forward with projects,” Fukushima said. 

Ava Peitz is a senior at the U who has done undergraduate research almost every semester she has been at the university.

The Early Exploration Scholars program connects undergraduate students who have taken less than 60 credits of classes at the U with a mentor so they can participate in undergraduate research. Students who are selected for the program will receive a $500 scholarship. In addition to attending the undergraduate research education series and orientations, students will also be able to take “research tours,” where they will be able to visit faculty labs and learn about different types of projects.

Applications for the Spring 2024 Semester cohort are available here and are due Nov. 30. Priority will be given to students with financial need. 

Ava Peitz is a senior at the U who started undergraduate research during her second semester of college. At that point in her studies, Peitz wanted to go to medical school, but the lab she was in helped her learn that while she loved research, she didn’t want to study medicine. She adjusted her studies accordingly and continued as a researcher in a new lab. 

“My love for research hasn’t faltered, even as the subject matter I’ve been able to research has flexed and changed,” Petiz said. “I’ve conducted research on campus for seven out of my nine semesters at the U, and it has been instrumental to my academic growth because research allows me to connect in a different way to what I’m learning.”

Read more about Peitz’s experience here

Undergraduate research has been a key part of Kishan Thambu’s time at the U.

Kishan Thambu is another U student who started undergraduate research early. Though Thambu is a senior, as an aspiring physician, he still has a lot of school ahead of him. Thambu started undergraduate research his first semester of college and says it’s helped him gain important work-life balance skills. 

“Participating in research provides a lot of opportunities for critical thinking and understanding that you don’t get in the classroom,” Thambu said. “You are forced to dive deep into very specific topics that are applicable to real-life problems. You also gain a better understanding of how to solve problems in a research setting than you do within the limits of a classroom.”

Read more about Thambu’s experience here

Fukushima said she is excited to see the program develop and for the students who will be impacted by it. 

“We hope giving students the tools to really think about strategies for reaching out to mentors and developing a program that shows our campus we’re investing in mentoring relationships will create the dynamic we know is central to fostering undergraduate research success,” she said.