Faculty Involvement

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships is interested in supporting existing research opportunities for students, and in developing additional means to support research initiatives and faculty-student collaborations. We are happy to advertise research opportunities that faculty may know about or be involved in and we welcome the opportunity to support other initiatives as well. Please feel free to contact us at ugrad-urf@columbia.edu with questions that you may have.

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships: Summer Research Opportunities

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URF) has funding to support students interested in engaging in full-time research over the summer. While students may develop their own independent research projects, we also welcome the opportunity to connect students with faculty who are interested in having an undergraduate researcher contribute to a specific research project of their own. Through this collaboration, undergraduate researchers have the opportunity to engage in research activities in a specific academic discipline. The hope is that this collaboration will enable students to learn firsthand about what academic research entails; that they will have the opportunity to develop relationships with experts in their field; and that this experience will enrich their undergraduate experience while allowing them to consider academic and postgraduate careers.

Our summer funding comes from various grants, foundations and gifts. Some of this funding is tied to cohort-based programs that typically include support for a single summer session (i.e. 6 weeks), while some funding supports completely independent research for a period of time that is determined by the student or faculty member. Regardless of the source of the funding, students who receive funding through our office are expected to participate in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, to share their research with the broader Columbia community.

Columbia University faculty, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, librarians and academic administrators from all divisions may propose a project for which they would like to engage an undergraduate researcher.

The Process

Here is a quick overview of how the process works:

  • A description of your project will be shared with students, who will send their application materials to URF. We will forward you all application materials, and you can interview and select the undergraduate researcher of your choice.
  • Once you have selected a student, URF asks that you orient the student to the project and provide any training necessary for them to engage in the project successfully. Aside from orienting them to the research project, supervision of the student will likely entail the following: providing background readings and discussing the development of the current project; monitoring the undergraduate researcher’s work and providing feedback; meeting with the undergraduate researcher on a regular basis to discuss their performance and questions that may arise; engaging the student in conversations about the research, and their academic experiences and/or trajectory.
  • Students are expected to work full-time (30-40 hours/week) for the duration of the project, which can last anywhere from 4-12 weeks.
  • URF provides funding stipends to students for their research, and thus there is no cost to research mentors. If funding is available, we will happily consider approving more than one undergraduate researcher to work on a single project.
  • In addition to fulfilling the research expectations set out, student researchers are expected to present their research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Creating Effective Student/Research Mentor Partnerships

There are several key ingredients to establishing effective student/research mentor partnerships. Below is our “top eight” list of the items that are important for research mentors to consider as they select and connect with undergraduate researchers.

  1. Selecting a student who is enthusiastic and curious about your project is the best indicator of success.
  2. The project that you develop/assign to your undergraduate researcher is often a small part of a larger project. It can be helpful for the student to understand the background of the project and the project’s larger goals, in addition to the specific responsibilities that they are undertaking. This allows them to be more invested in the work, and to understand their own role more comprehensively.
  3. Orient your student to the project through background readings so that they can get a good sense of the context of the project; if this is a larger, group project introducing the student to the others working on the project can help them feel like a part of the research community, just as it can allow them to understand others’ roles, and their own.
  4. Set clear expectations for the project and what tasks you will be giving the student and why. Keep in mind that while student responsibilities may range from the mundane to the substantive, the expectation is that students engage in research in ways that will allow them to understand what knowledge production in a particular field requires, and to participate in knowledge production through their engagement with your project. It may be helpful to remember that the student will be required to develop a poster presentation about their participation in your project, and to do so, they need to be able to speak about a topic (or a tiny part of a topic) in substantive ways.
  5. Be very clear about your expectations regarding schedules and communication. If this student is working independently, what do you expect them to produce, when and how should they share this work with you? If they are coming to a specific location, what are the expectations about hours, and how should they contact you should an issue arise? If you have a preference for how the student should communicate with you, or to whom they should ask questions (you, a graduate student, someone else), make this clear to the student.
  6. Arrange meeting times with your student to touch base, review progress and performance, answer questions, discuss challenges, maybe even chatting about life outside of research. While the timing of such meetings is up to each mentor to determine, regular interaction is the goal.
  7. If the student is doing something wrong, or needs to adjust their approach to the project, immediate feedback is helpful for allowing them to understand what they’re doing wrong, and getting them back on track.
  8. If any problems arise, contact ugrad-urf@columbia.edu, as we will gladly work to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

Project application timeline

Projects are advertised on a rolling basis. Shortly after your project description is finalized, it will be published on our website and shared with students. Student applications are accepted through mid-March, depending on the funding for which the student is applying. Applications will be shared with you in January and in March, at which point you can interview candidates for summer research positions.

Undergraduate Research Project Development

If you are interested in proposing a project, please fill out this form. Your project description should include a description of the overall project, what the student’s responsibilities and tasks will be, any qualifications that students should have to work on this project (familiarity with a foreign language; computing skills, etc.), and how long you envision this project to be, and what the time commitment of the project is. Typically projects are designed for anywhere from 6-10 weeks, but they can be shorter or longer, as required; likewise, while the project should be designed so that a student can work on it full-time for the designated period of time, full-time can mean different time commitments. We typically understand full-time research to be 30-40 weekday hours. The project can be part of a larger project, but it should be substantive. Responsibilities such as copy editing, scanning, photocopying are fine, but should not be the only responsibilities assigned the student researcher.

Project Description Components:

  • Project title:
  • Project Description:
  • Student tasks and responsibilities:
  • Minimum qualifications:
  • How many hours per week they would need to work (keeping in mind that this project should be a full-time engagement, this should be 30-40 hours/week):
  • How many weeks of the summer they would need to work

Examples of Faculty Submitted Research Projects

Project Title: Searching for Counterparts to Recent Black Hole-Black Hole Mergers

  • Description: The gravitational wave observatories (LIGO and Virgo) are now routinely detecting gravitational waves from merging massive Black Hole-Black Hole binaries. In order to do all the astrophysics that is possible in principle with these data (cosmology, physics of merging holes, etc.), it is necessary to determine where (in which galaxy) the gravitational wave source is located. Currently, the only way of doing that is by detecting light emitted at the time the gravitational waves are emitted. We have developed a speculative technique for searching for X-ray emission from gravitational wave sources, which we want to apply to the recently detected signals (one year of data with LIGO and Virgo).
  • Primary Duties: The project entails setting up some simple software to display X-ray images from NASA's archives, inspecting them, and then running search algorithms we have developed this year and following the leads. This coming Summer, we hope to get access to a full-sky X-ray survey, that will probably have a better than 50% chance of catching a merger signal.
  • Requirements: An interest in black hole-black hole mergers

Project Title: Social Histories of African American Lesbian and Gay Elders

  • Description: This research is part of a book project on the sociocultural history of African American LGBTQ people.
  • Primary Duties: The student researcher would conduct library work, learning how to code data using qualitative software, and reading and providing summaries of relevant research. Students interested in sociology, LGBTQ populations, social histories and archival research, qualitative research methods, and stories about old people "back in the day" would be interested in this project.
  • Requirements: Past research experience is a plus.

Project Title: The American Diva

  • Description: This research relates to a book project that will chronicle the impact of divas on American culture in the decades from the civil rights era to the present. Part critical reflection and lyric essay, part memoir and manifesto, part elegy and ode, the book explores how divas have shaped our thinking about feminism, free market principles, and freedom struggles during the last 50 years. Primary Duties: include conducting and organizing preliminary research on the role “divas” play in representations and marketing of girl culture during the last 20 years.
  • Requirements: Interest in the topic.

Project Title: Partisan Polarization and "Culture War" Issues

  • Description: Over the last generation partisan polarization on “culture war” issues has become a defining feature of American politics, with the Democratic Party embracing social liberalism and the Republican Party embracing social conservatism. This was not always the case; for much of the 20th century, social issues such as abortion rights and LGBT rights played virtually no role in politics. Today, of course, they are central to partisan conflict. This transformation, despite its importance, is not well understood. In fact, there is little consensus among political scientists as to its timing, sequence, or causes. Using a variety of data sources, particularly a newly compiled set of historic state-party platforms, we aim to answer a number of crucial questions: Where and when did the partisan divide begin on abortion and gay and lesbian rights? Which party ``moved first"? Was there a critical moment, or was position change incremental? Do abortion and gay rights follow the same pattern? While it is possible that the rise of social issues took place entirely on the national stage, then later spread to state and local politics, we set out to explore the possibility that these debates took place first at the state level.
  • Primary Duties: A student researcher would assist with data collection and analysis. The data we will be collecting this summer include state legislative roll call votes on relevant bills, local media cover of abortion and LGBT rights, and debates within the political parties about position taking on these issues. We will focus on four case study states---California, Texas, Minnesota, and Massachusetts---during the 1970s and late 1960s.
  • Requirements: No specialized skills are necessary.

Project Title: Ambedkar Initiative

  • Description: B. R. Ambedkar is arguably one of Columbia University’s most illustrious alumni, and a democratic thinker and constitutional lawyer who had enormous impact in shaping India, the world’s largest democracy. As is well known, Ambedkar came to Columbia University in July 1913 to start a doctoral program in Political Science. He graduated in 1915 with a Masters degree, and got his doctorate from Columbia in 1927 after having studied with some of the great figures of interwar American thought including John Dewey. Columbia University awarded Ambedkar with an honorary LL.D. in 1952. This project links Columbia with the anti-caste legacy of Ambedkar, and seeks to explore genealogies of radical democracy outside the North Atlantic.
  • Primary Duties: Research will focus on collections in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Burke Library that contain uncatalogued correspondence relating to B.R. Ambedkar's time as a student at Columbia.
  • Requirements: The project is ideal for anyone with an interest in digital humanities, archival practice, American intellectual history, South Asian culture/history/politics. Student will be expected to engage with texts, join weekly or bi-weekly meetings, and take on other responsibilities as requested.
Project Title: Studying the brains of memory experts
  • Description: Although most of us are quite poor at remembering lists of information like a series of random words or the order of a deck of playing cards, some people have trained to use mnemonic systems that allow them to quickly memorize tens or hundreds of items in only minutes. One of the main techniques, called the "Method of Loci" or "Memory Palace" technique, involves converting information into mental images that are placed at specific locations in an imagined spatial map. We hypothesize that this technique is so effective because it engages the brain's episodic memory systems in a way that is similar to our everyday autobiographical memories.
  • Primary Duties: We will be collecting fMRI data (at the Zuckerman Institute at 125th street) of memory experts using these techniques, as well as people who are learning to use these techniques for the first time. The researcher would assist in running these neuroimaging scans and in organizing the data for use in analysis pipelines, and processing collected data to produce quantitative measures of how memory performance varies across people and over time.
  • Requirements: The project is ideal for anyone with an interest in the field of Psychology.