Posted September 23, 2011

CST undergraduates gain hands-on research experience


In the past three years, more than 300 undergraduate students in Temple’s College of Science and Technology (CST) have put the theories and concepts they’ve learned in the classroom to use in the labs of faculty researchers on the university’s Main and Health Sciences campuses.

The college’s Undergraduate Research Program (URP) was created by Dean Hai-Lung Dai to promote and facilitate opportunities for students to gain hands-on research experience while pursuing their undergraduate degrees.

URP is open to undergraduate students in all majors within the College of Science and Technology, said Rose McGinnis, CST’s director of career services and the undergraduate research program. Students must apply for the program and meet rigorous academic requirements to attain a research slot in a faculty member’s lab working on a real project.

“This program is not for students to be in the labs cleaning up,” said McGinnis. “These are real research projects in which the students fully participate.”

After being accepted into URP, the students arrange interviews with the faculty members advertising research projects of interest.

“Most faculty members are looking for students who are going to be passionate in the lab and who are going to bring their skill sets to whatever research that particular faculty member is focused on in their lab,” said McGinnis.

“This is why I’m working at a university and not at a national lab — the opportunity to work with undergraduate students in a laboratory,” said Chemistry Professor Eric Borguet, who has had 15 URP students work in his lab since the program began.

He said that by participating in the program, students “learn that they can jump higher than they think.”

Neuroscience major Sachin Parikh is one example. The Bethlehem, Pa. senior began working in Biology Assistant Professor Tonia Hsieh’s laboratory last spring, comparing cockroach locomotion on an inverted and upright surface.

“I feel that working in the lab is much more valuable than class time where you get the theoretical aspects of things,” said Parikh. “The experience I’m getting in the lab is giving me a practical application of what I’m learning in class.”

Parikh’s goal is to attain a job in the bio-engineering field, and he’s trying to decide the best course to pursue that goal — whether to apply for a job after receiving his undergraduate degree or to pursue a graduate degree then go into the workforce. He believes the research experience will be beneficial when he applies for a future job.

“This experience is a great indicator to future employers of how committed you are to a project, how you work with others and your persistence,” he said.

Students spend a maximum of two semesters in URP, said McGinnis. In fall and spring, they can earn three research credits, working a minimum of nine hours per week in the lab. Since last spring, students are able to earn $9 per hour for hours worked in the lab beyond their required coursework, up to nine paid hours per week. During summer semesters, instead of receiving research academic credits, students can earn up to $4,000.

Dean Dai has also created additional Dean Scholarships for exceptional undergraduate research students. The students are nominated by the faculty based on both academic progress and financial need. The first six scholarships were awarded this past summer.

“What’s great about the URP is we often have students who, because of economic reasons, work either full- or part-time outside of Temple and can’t take advantage of what this major university is offering,” said Borguet. “By putting money into this program, students can now afford to be at the cutting edge of research instead of cutting grass.”

McGinnis said that in addition to research skills, the program also enhances critical soft skills which are vitally important to students today.

“The ability to package themselves, to be able to present themselves to research faculty, to be able to articulate to faculty why they are interested in their research lab, as well as communicate the research they are working on is also a benefit of the URP,” she said.