Student / Faculty Research

Students working with Professor Paul Rablen

Approximately two-thirds of Swarthmore students participate in Undergraduate Research or Independent Creative Projects with the support and mentorship of faculty members. Each summer more than $800,000 in grants is awarded by the College to support this work. Opportunities are available in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering divisions, as well as for social action projects.

The Long-Term Benefits

 A considerable body of research, much of it catalogued by the Council on Undergraduate Research, shows that students engaged in summer experiences benefit greatly on a number of fronts: They spend more time studying and engaged in academic discussions, they develop closer relationships with professors, and they are significantly more likely to go on to graduate and professional schools. Although much of this research has focused on STEM disciplines, anecdotal evidence suggests that students in other fields enjoy similar benefits.

The same holds true for students who enter the job market after graduation. "There is a well-defined correlation between this type of summer experience and job offers, not just at Swarthmore but all over the country," says Nancy Burkett, director of Career Services.

Burkett points to a study of more than 400 U.S. colleges and universities conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in 2010.  The study defines summer experiences broadly, including internships offered by employers as well as the grant-funded fellowships offered by institutions such as Swarthmore, but the results remain significant. NACE found that 42.3 percent of seniors who had internship experiences and applied for jobs received at least one job offer. Conversely, only 30.7 percent of seniors without internship experiences who applied for a job received an offer. The survey also showed that seniors with internship experiences were offered higher salaries than their non-internship counterparts.

Enriching Academic Relationships

Students engaged in research often enjoy the kind of close oversight and collaboration with faculty that can only be had at a small college with a low student-faculty ratio. "We are trying to give undergraduates the mentored experience that, at universities, is more often reserved for graduate students," says former Provost Connie Hungerford.

That was junior Julia Cooper's experience in Nick Kaplinsky's lab. "I got a sense of freedom in the lab," she says. "I got to design my own experiments. It was different from a classroom experience, because the answers weren't predetermined."

The summer months lend themselves to intensive research, says Hungerford. "It often works better, for both the student and the faculty mentor, when the day doesn't have other competing demands-other classes, extracurricular activities. Both student and faculty can work all day, five days a week, without distractions."

Faculty members can also benefit from having student participate in their research. "The students in my lab were vitally important to my research," says Alison Holliday, assistant professor of chemistry, whose student summer researchers were engaged in investigating the chiral effects of pesticides. "It was more than simply having more hands in the lab," she said. "They had different ideas and perspectives. They asked questions and challenged me."

Read more about summer research opportunities involving astrophysics, Sriracha, wildfires, and owl monkeys in the story "Broadening Horizons."