URA facilitates research and communication

Photo courtesy of Stephen Marek

For most undergraduates at Tech, it isn’t easy to find a position in a research lab, especially if they are not sure what their specific interests are. It can be even harder for researchers to find qualified students to help.

The Undergraduate Research Ambassadors (URA) aim to facilitate this connection.

“The Undergraduate Research Ambassadors program aims to provide support to students involved in labs associated with Georgia Tech, as well as inspire incoming students and underrepresented populations to get involved,” said Alix Macklin, one of the members of URA and fourth-year ME.

The group is newly formed, and attracted many individuals who had experienced the difficulties of finding a good fit first hand.

One of these students was Celeste Runnels, a second-year BCHM, who last year pioneered the research fair with the help of the educational enhancement committee of SGA.

“I have been doing research since my first semester at Tech, so it has always been a big part of my experience here,” Runnels said. “I always kind of thought it was unnecessarily complicated.”

She also heads the URA committee that deals with future research fairs. The other committees cover areas such as office hours and seminars, external funding, communications and webmaster committees.

The ambassadors meet together for bi-weekly meetings run by their advisor, Allyson Tant. Much of their current work is making sure Tech students hear about URA and begin to utilize it as a resource.

Last week, URA held their first office hours session, during which interested students could come in and ask questions about how to get involved with undergraduate research and get help with various tasks such as applying for the President’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA). They hope to hold sessions like this more regularly in the future.

In addition, URA hopes to put on programming for student researchers, such as seminars or networking events. Their ambassadors present about undergraduate researchers in GT1000 classes and mentor students who want to get more involved as well.

In the future, the organization hopes to support as many researchers as possible and increase the interest in undergraduate research at Tech.

“The Undergraduate Research Ambassadors have the opportunity to influence research at Tech as well as cultivate an exciting and collaborative undergraduate research culture,” said Macklin.

The upcoming Research Fair will be held on April 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Klaus atrium. According to Runnels, the aim is to create a low-pressure environment in which students can get a broader picture of research opportunities at Tech, while professors and other existing researchers can get some practice talking about the work they have been doing.

“We are currently in the stages of getting faculty and graduate students to present at the fair,” Runnels said. “The idea is to have representatives from as many different research labs at Tech as possible.”

She thinks that the fair will also be beneficial to graduate students, who have the opportunity to find a student to mentor or get help with their project, and professors, who can determine which interested students are truly knowledgeable and committed to helping.

“If you’re a faculty member and no one seems interested working in your lab, what do you do?” Runnels said. “For the most part, there seems to be an obstacle that hasn’t really been torn down in communication between undergraduates and faculty.”

Georgia Tech is a leading research institute and the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors group is allowing the school to come one step closer to tearing down the wall between in-class academics and research opportunities, aiming to meld them and create a more wholesome undergraduate experience.