Research Fair Provides Undergrads With Grant Opportunities

Kelsey Gobroski

Sun Star Contributor

Undergraduates discovered project possibilities at the Undergraduate Research Fair, as well as research opportunities prevalent around campus. The Center for Research Services (CRS) hosted the fair at the Wood Center last Friday. Scientists and grant representatives tabled about 15 booths.

“If you want to get into a good school when you pursue your master’s degree, you have to have research on your resume at this point,” said Jennifer Wagaman, CRS Director of Research Engagement. Graduate degrees tend to be based around a central thesis, but it is becoming more common for bachelor’s students to be expected to graduate with some sort of research experience as well, she said.

“Not everyone needs to do a research career, but everyone needs research experience,” neuroscientist and assistant professor Barbara Taylor said.
Llian Breen, who graduated with a degree in computer engineering and physics, is now working his way toward neuroscience through undergraduate coursework. He works with Brian Edmonds, who studies neuron communication. In the lab, Breen learns many skills that might not be required for a degree, but are often expected in the professional field, he said.

Undergraduates looking to pursue their own projects need to find a mentor or a lab to facilitate their work. Undergraduate research is prevalent on campus but relatively unknown, Taylor said.

Taylor offers a seminar to fill some of the information void. The course provides an overview of UAF life science research and seminar skills. Taylor said she hopes this will give students better pathways than the typical word-of-mouth.

Research coursework doesn’t stop at the life sciences. Some departments, such as chemistry, natural resources management, various liberal arts, and engineering, require senior projects before students can graduate. Beginning in the spring, biology will have an optional equivalent – BIOL493. The course focuses on pairing students with a mentor and a lab, Taylor said. She said she hopes in the future all departments on campus would provide similar opportunities.
After finding a mentor and a project, students often need to find funding. Alongside the research booths, other organizations offered grants and resources to students and scientists alike.
Wagaman is leading the Undergraduate Research Competition, which will award $2,500 grants to 10 students. The competition is open to any undergraduate with a mentor, including both science and liberal arts students. The grant money might not end at just $2,500, either.
“If your mentor is in IAB [Institute of Arctic Biology], they’ll match what you get,” Wagaman said. The recipients of the award will able to present their research at the undergraduate symposium at Campus Research Day in the spring.

At the moment, CRS does not connect students with researchers off-campus, but Wagaman said that she may invite off-campus entities to the fair next year.
“The key on our campus, I think, is making connections, and that’s why we have the fair,” Wagaman said.

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