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Students, faculty share their research at Binghamton University

Undergraduate Research Center distributes nearly $24,000 in research stipends every year

While Research Days only lasts for three days, students and faculty at Binghamton University dedicate years to their work.

Every year, BU professors, graduate students and undergraduates work together and separately to engage in high-level research projects with the goal of publishing their work.

Donald Nieman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said BU’s reputation as a high-level research institution in American and women’s history was what initially attracted him to apply for a job at the University.

“The research that faculty do gives Binghamton a national and international reputation,” he said. “When there was a job advertisement for dean of Harpur College, I knew about it, I was interested.”

For tenured faculty, professors on the tenure track and graduate students, research is mandatory, and researchers may spend multiple years and thousands of hours on a single research project across a variety of subjects.

Diane Sommerville, an associate history professor, said she balances teaching courses, directing the graduate history program and working on her own research on suicides in pre-Civil War and Civil War South.

“I have been working on it since 2005, and I’ll have worked on it for a decade before it goes to the publisher,” she said.

Dan Parisian, a fourth-year graduate student studying economics, said that his work researching the connection between education and crime rates took 60 to 70 hours a week.

“I research and I TA,” he said. “I am hopefully going to be a college professor, and this is showing the work I can do.”

Nieman estimated that thousands of students work on independent research projects every year, many of them as undergraduate students.

“I would say that it’s common across the University, but it’s most common in the sciences and engineering,” he said. “If you’re operating a lab there’s a lot of different tasks that need to be done on a major research project in a lab, so it’s really feasible to bring good undergraduate students into that process.”

Jeffery Mativetsky, a physics professor researching organic molecules in electronics, said that both graduate and undergraduate students were a major part of his research.

“There have been a number of students who have come to me from the classes that I teach,” he said. “Students do the bulk of the hands-on work, I work to help them with big picture and to provide guidance.”

Ashley Serbonich, assistant to the director of the office of scholarships, fellowships and awards, said that the Undergraduate Research Center distributes nearly $24,000 each year in research stipends and more than double that for grants for the summer.

In an effort to encourage research, Serbonich said administrators are looking to create an online program to match interested students with professors in the next couple academic years.

“It’s like a job posting idea, the faculty would post information about the research opportunities they have in labs or classes,” she said. “We would make that easily available to students and say what the criteria were for applying.”

Bill McCarthy, associate director of the Career Development Center, said that research was also a marketable experience that companies and employers look for.

“Research is vital because it creates the next big thing or big idea,” he said. “Companies definitely need researchers. 3M, for example, didn’t have Post-it sticky notes until it gave researchers free time to experiment.”

Chris Tufo, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said his research gave him the opportunity to combine psychology and linguistics.

“I do my research because there’s no major that combines the topics I want to study,” he said. “I can use things that I learn in the classroom to actually find new information and discover on my own.”