The Vitality of Student Research
Research and academic inquiry are the backbone of a university. To dispel one common misconception, research does not just mean pouring chemicals into beakers or looking through a microscope; research is done in all academic fields, including the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and Jewish Studies. One amazing aspect about Yeshiva College is the opportunity for undergraduate students to be involved in hands-on research with tenured faculty members, many of whom are esteemed researchers in their respective fields. Research has defined the YU experience for countless students, including myself.
About a year and a half ago, during my 3rd semester at YU, I decided I wanted to do research in the field of psychology, which I am majoring in. I had enjoyed the topics touched upon in many of the classes and wanted to explore some of these areas deeper, in addition to the fact that I wanted experience in case I decide to do graduate work in psychology. I emailed Dr. Jenny Isaacs, a professor of mine, and applied to work in her lab. After being accepted to the lab I began to help out with numerous projects and eventually took on the role of project manager in an experimental study. I recently submitted a proposal to work on a study of my own with Dr. Isaacs for my Honors thesis.
I tell you this not to publicize my own accomplishments, but rather to demonstrate the great opportunities in research that I have been afforded at YU. In a large university, and especially in a state school with 40,000 plus students, it would be very difficult for a 3rd semester student to be accepted to work directly with a tenured professor. Even once a student is accepted, he or she would spend most of his or her time reporting to graduate students or TA’s. The fact that I am able to work intimately with a tenured professor who is a well-regarded researcher in her field should not be understated. Additionally, YU’s administration has hired many professors who are eager to involve students in research and provides students with accessibility and some financial opportunities to do academic research.
One reason I enjoy being a research assistant so much is that I have come to know a small area of psychology very well. I have become intimate with my field not through reading a textbook, but rather by scouring through countless peer-reviewed journals and scholarly articles. I am confident that I can hold a conversation about my field with renowned researchers. In fact, many students in both my lab and in other labs have written Honors theses, attended and presented at conferences, and even co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals.
Furthermore, the analytical and critical thinking skills that I am developing through involvement in research will be crucial in whatever I pursue in the future. I apply both the technical information I am learning and the broader ways of thinking to a variety of classes, activities, and life situations. At almost every interview I have gone to, for a wide range of jobs and programs, some of which have nothing to do with my field of study, the interviewer was impressed with my involvement in research. Academic inquiry makes us think in new and critical ways that intellectually stimulate the mind. This opportunity is available to any student at YU with the proper work ethic who seeks it out, and I strongly encourage each student to strongly consider getting involved in the research of his or her field of study.
I know that my experience is not unique. Throughout the years, hundreds of YU students have taken their undergraduate education to a higher level through research. During the school year, this research is mostly volunteer work. We do it for the intrinsic value, as well as for gaining crucial skills and experience necessary for graduate school or the workplace.
Deep involvement in research takes time—more time than possible during the busy academic year. This is why many students stay during the summer for the opportunity to have two or three months to dedicate to full-time research. The summer is also a time many students, busy during the year, use to make some spending money. In the summer, living expenses are not provided in the same way that they are during the year. There is no meal plan, and housing is sparse. Unfortunately, many students simply are neither able nor willing to go an entire summer without making any money. Finally, it is well known that paid internships look exponentially better on a resume than unpaid internships. Fortunately, YU used to provide a stipend to each professor involved in research on campus to allot to students of theirs involved in full time summer research. This funding was pulled this year in the latest round of budgetary cuts.
I do not envy those involved in making these budgetary decisions. I realize that they are often caught between a rock and a hard place. I believe, however, that student summer research is an area that should not have been slashed. This cut will definitely lower the number of students able to commit to a summer of research, which would either also lower the number of students involved in research during the year or create a situation where students involved in research will never be able to make the most of their experience. It is likely that the number of Honors theses and student publications in academic journals, many of which have contributed to YU’s esteemed reputation in the academic world, will also decrease. Candidates for professorship will feel like they are not able to do what they went into academia to do—teach students and train future academic leaders—and may thus send their résumés elsewhere.
This is all in addition to the fact that I believe that there is something inherently unethical about the unpaid internship—a student working 40 hours a week for no money. NYU and Columbia recently put out guidelines severely restricting and discouraging unpaid internships, and I would like to see YU follow suit. For all these reasons, I believe that recent financial cuts that totally remove funding from students involved in summer research should be reconsidered.
I am proud to be among the ranks that continue to be inspired through profound involvement in academic research and inquiry, and I hope that students coming after me will also be afforded this opportunity.