I am often asked by students if I know of any research opportunities that they can take advantage of as undergraduates. My usual answer – which I’m not happy with – is to suggest the students go and dig around on professors’ websites or knock on doors and talk to them, even though I know it is sometimes hard for students to “break the ice” with professors. The disappointing reality is that I don’t really know much about my colleagues’ research activities, so I can’t give much guidance.

Further, when I was a graduate student here, I often found myself visiting other students’ labs, at least those in Mechanical Engineering, and I had a reputation for sometimes working harder on other students’ projects than my own. My colleagues appreciated my interest in their work, and I’d like to believe our overall productivity was better – at least I hope I didn’t give bad advice!

With all that in mind, by “Dream Idea” is to hold a series of lab tours for both undergraduate and graduate students. For undergraduates, the main objective is for them to see first-hand what goes on in a research lab, both to get them access to opportunities and give them a chance to think about what graduate school would be like. For graduate students, the main objective is to increase collaboration among students and build interdisciplinary connections.

I plan to work with Lisa Lampe, the Director of Undergraduate Success, and the Undergraduate Research Group, a student-led initiative for students interested in research. They are organizing a Research Fair in September, which I will use as a stepping stone to more direct interaction. That is, while the research fair is great for students who want to see what kind of research is being done, I want students to be able to talk to graduate students and professors and see their labs to get a better idea of how research gets done.

My plan is to have roughly eight lab tours and entice labs to participate by offering food, which will also encourage more social interaction. Depending on participation, I may go to eight individual labs, or I might be able to get two or three labs in a given department to participate at the same time. I would also like to arrange visits to at least one other institution, with JMU and Virginia Tech being the most likely candidates.

Proposed budget:

Food for each lab tour @ 8 x $250$2,000

Food and transportation to another university$1,000