“Spending a summer immersed in a research project, free from grades, deadlines, coursework and other distractions of the academic year, is an experience no single class can provide,” said Kathy Hoke, associate dean for research support in the School of Arts & Sciences. “The funding from an Arts & Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship gives a student the freedom to fully explore the thing they love, without having to worry about finding a summer job.”

The School of Arts & Sciences’ Undergraduate Research Committee provides fellowships of up to $4500 for students to work on research projects in any of the School’s academic disciplines.

Hoke says that students who apply for a fellowship should be willing to devote full attention to the project for eight to 10 weeks. However, this year the committee is willing to fund projects that span shorter periods of time, particularly for students going abroad, if the student demonstrates a long-term commitment to the project.

For students already preparing their research proposals, or for those wondering if their idea has what it takes to get funded, here are the top five things that successful research proposals have in common:

  1. The project results in some type of product: a paper, a research presentation, a creative work, a documentary, etc.
  2. The student has worked closely with a faculty mentor to develop the proposal.
  3. The student has consulted with additional faculty members if the project involves more than one discipline.  
  4. The proposal includes a literature review that indicates familiarity with previous work in the area. The proposal also indicates the contribution of the current project to what is already known (Is it replicating previous work under new conditions or exploring a new line of inquiry?)
  5. If the research involves human subjects (even if simply for interviews or surveys), the student had begun the process of applying for approval from the Institutional Review Board before the proposal is submitted.

Hoke, who has seen a wide variety of research proposals come across her desk, also has a few tips on what a research proposal shouldn’t look like.

“There have been students who have tried to blend a volunteer opportunity or study abroad trip with a research project,” she said. “While the trip or experience doesn’t itself count as research, other students have successfully created research projects inspired by these experiences.”

She pointed out that the purpose of the grant is for students to have uninterrupted time to explore their topic—this means no classes, no jobs, no distractions. The fellowship can’t be used while a student is enrolled at a university abroad; however, a student can extend his or her travels to incorporate a research project after the semester is over.

Hoke is quick to emphasize that summer research is not just for scientists. Some of the most unique proposals she has looked at have been from students in the humanities, arts and social sciences. One student turned a study abroad trip to Turkey into a senior thesis and used funding from the School of Arts & Sciences to travel to libraries in Washington, D.C. to consult primary sources. Another turned her interest in Russian underground art into a research project and traveled to Russia to interview an artist in St. Petersburg. Another student, who was inspired by the time he spent on the Soul Force Equality Ride, developed a research project that took the experience a step further.

One art major used funding from the School of Arts & Sciences to set up a studio in her grandparents’ garage where she spent the summer painting, while two religion majors used their funding to go on a road trip to the hometown of a 19th century, self-proclaimed female prophet. Some students have spent their summers composing music, while others have traveled to libraries to do research using primary sources.

Students with strong research proposals are typically those who have close working relationships with their faculty mentors. One student who traveled to look at primary sources as they related to Abraham Lincoln’s legal career was even accompanied by his mentor on the trip.

Other students have found that collaborating with faculty members is the key step in turning an independent interest into a full–fledged research project. One student took her interest in a Supreme Court case related to her genealogy and brought it to a faculty member who helped her create a research proposal. Another student took his interest in a movement within the Lutheran Church and, with the right faculty collaboration, was able to spend his summer immersed in the topic.

“Besides the key aspects of having a plan and collaborating with faculty, the most important part of the proposal is that the student is researching a subject they are passionate about,” said Hoke.