Undergraduate Research and Creativity

2019 Symposium Poster Session

Undergraduate research at Temple involves the creation and communication of new knowledge in collaboration with faculty mentors. Students in all 12 undergraduate schools and colleges engage in scholarly research, in fields as diverse as dance, film, global studies, humanities, bioengineering, and public relations, to name just a few.

Demetrius Lee, 2018 Diamond Research Scholar

2018 Diamond Research Scholar
In April 2019, Demetrius Lee traveled to Capitol Hill with 59 other students from across the country to share his Diamond Research Scholar work with members of Congress & their staffers at the 2019 Posters on the Hill event, organized by CUR (Council on Undergraduate Research). A neuroscience major who graduated in 2019, Demetrius researched the sex-specific effects of multiple life stressors on development and cognition in rats. He currently works at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as a research technician in the lab of Ethan Goldberg M.D., Ph.D., where he supports the Epilepsy Neurogenetics Initiative. You can read more about Demetrius and his Diamond Scholars experience in the October 2019 edition of the Enrichment Programs newsletter.

Discussion with Mentors for the 2019 Cohort of Diamond Research Scholars

Diamond Research Scholars Mentors
Drs. Sherril Dodds (Dance), Edwin Maas (Communication Sciences and Disorders), & Evangelia Bellas (BioEngineering)

Tell us about the student and project you mentored.
Dr. Dodds: I mentored BFA Dance Major Makayla Peterson. She wrote an essay and created a vlog (video blog) that examined how the Caribbean female dancing body has been colonized and misrepresented in American popular culture as a sexualized and racialized spectacle, but through fieldwork at several Caribbean festivals she demonstrated how social dance allows women to stage their Caribbean identity and perform community belonging in ways that critique these narrow misconceptions.
Dr. Maas: I mentored Kyra Skoog, in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Kyra's project focused on children with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), a pediatric speech disorder in which planning of speech movements is impaired, and these errors may severely limit their speech intelligibility. Kyra's project examined whether commonly used measures of speech sound accuracy (e.g., consonant accuracy, vowel accuracy) are meaningfully related to intelligibility.
Dr. Bellas: I mentored Niko Di Caprio, a senior majoring in bioengineering. His project used modified collagen biomaterials to probe how altered fat tissue matrix mechanics, as seen in obese tissue that has become fibrotic, can affect fat cell function.

How did this project intersect with or depart from your own research interests?
Dr. Dodds: Although I am not an expert in Caribbean popular dance, I am familiar with the literature on this topic and my own work looks at how other forms of social dance enable participants to work through matters of identity and community belonging.
Dr. Maas: This project fit nicely with the research in our lab, much of which focuses on how to improve treatment for children with CAS. A common outcome measure in treatment studies is speech accuracy, whereas intelligibility is rarely used, in part because it is more time-intensive to code. Kyra's project addressed a fundamental question about the relationship between outcome measures that will help design of future treatment studies and potentially provide important information to facilitate clinical decision-making by speech-language pathologists.
Dr. Bellas: One of our main areas of interest is studying how fibrosis in obese adipose tissue (fat) influences metabolic function. I have used biomaterials throughout my research; however, we had not yet used them as a tool to probe mechanisms. Given Niko’s strengths and interests, we knew it was the right time to try this approach.

How would you describe your mentoring philosophy or style?
Dr. Dodds: I try to work closely with the student to support their research interests, and help them to identify a project and methodology that suits their academic skills. As Makayla is such a creative individual, we felt that the vlog would really bring the dance to life on screen and allow her to engage with her community of practitioners.
Dr. Maas: Supportive, communicative, and honest. I offer guidance and resources, and then encourage students to figure things out independently and solve problems. I am around to help troubleshoot, of course, but I believe that students retain information better, and learn more deeply, by trying to find things out through trial-and-error or logic. I try to ask questions to help them work out the process, and play devil's advocate sometimes to push them to sharpen their thoughts and rationale. And I provide honest input about what science is and isn't, what an academic/scientific career entails, etc., warts and all.
Dr. Bellas: My style is to support project autonomy earlier than most other mentors do, especially autonomy in less experienced trainees. I have found most rise to the occasion and they learn a lot more in the process. This can mean the early stages are a bit more challenging but the outcomes are always impressive. Their success is then truly built off what they have fostered.

What, if anything, surprised you about the experience of mentoring a Diamond Research Scholar?
Dr. Dodds: I was amazed at how self-motivated Makayla was. She responded so well to feedback on her writing that the work underwent a significant transformation from the early drafts through to the finished essay. The development of her writing was quite impressive.
Dr. Maas: Not entirely surprised, but the high caliber and dedication of the Scholars. It is truly a pleasure and privilege to work with such accomplished, smart, and motivated individuals who are the stars of the future.
Dr. Bellas: I was impressed with how insightful the Scholars became over their time with the program. It offered them a chance to think about their strengths, areas for improvement and the challenges of research. The community with other Scholars in different areas of research allowed them to see their struggles, concerns, ups and downs are shared by all regardless of field.

What tips do you have for students who are trying to find a mentor?
Dr. Dodds: I had not worked with Makayla prior to the Diamond Scholars program, therefore I would advise students to take time to get to know their mentor a little. Makayla and I had a lengthy first meeting where we established that we had mutual research interests and that there was clearly a rapport between us.
Dr. Maas: Think about what sorts of research you find interesting. Check out faculty websites to see what they do, not just in your own department but in other departments as well. Don't be shy -- reach out to people. Be familiar with their research (generally). No need to read all their papers, but familiarize yourself a little with what they do. Have a resume ready because they will probably ask for one when/before you meet with them. Be able to articulate what your strengths are, why you would make an excellent fit for someone's lab.
Dr. Bellas: I believe the environment is just as important (if not more important than) the research project. Do your ‘homework’. Is the mentor generally supportive of their trainees? Are their trainees happy? It is ok to ask around and ask current trainees if possible. When you meet with the mentor, are their interests aligned with yours?

What advice do you have for undergraduates contemplating undertaking an in-depth research or creative project?
Dr. Dodds: Be prepared to be flexible about what you can achieve in a relatively short time, and work closely with your mentor to share each stage of the research process. Regular check-ins ensure that any problems or challenges can be resolved relatively quickly, and they encourage the student to keep articulating what the project is and how its findings are developing.
Dr. Maas:
  • Think about what your goals are and what you hope to gain from this experience.
  • Persevere. Not everything works out, but keep trying. Don't be discouraged too easily. Be resilient. Believe in yourself.
  • Most projects take longer than you expect. Setbacks are part of the process. That's OK, because you will learn as much (or more) from obstacles and mistakes than when everything goes according to plan. Research is often non-linear, and an exercise in delayed gratification. Sometimes you are working working working and waiting and waiting and waiting, with no tangible product to show for it. (The amount of time you spend does not linearly equate to amount of product). But then eventually when the product is ready, it is very rewarding. Nothing is perfect. That's OK. Just accept it. Don't let "perfect" be the enemy of "done."
  • Now is a good time to explore your interests. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to expand your horizons.
  • Dr. Bellas: Be honest with yourself about what you can take on and how it may impact your other commitments. Undergraduates can have a heavy course load, multiple groups on campus, or a job to which they are already committed. Research is a big commitment. Talk to others doing research and get a sense of how much time they are spending in research. Is it something you can imagine working with your schedule and existing commitments? If not, are you willing to (or should you) put another commitment on the back burner? Sometimes you don’t come to a conclusion you like, but that’s OK, better to figure that out earlier rather than let something (like your grades) slip because you took on too much.

    Whether you pursue a research-related career or not, undergraduate research offers many benefits. In fact, recent research found that engaging in a sustained academic project and developing a deep connection with a mentor were two of the main predictors of fulfillment among college graduates (Gallup-Purdue Index Report, 2015).

    Other benefits:

    • Deepen your understanding of material you study in classes
    • Clarify your interests and career goals, including maybe discovering that research is not for you!
    • Prepare for graduate school or post-graduate opportunities
    • Build a meaningful connection with a mentor
    • Boost competitiveness for funding
    • Take the first step toward a national scholarship opportunity
    • Develop analytical, creative, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills that will serve you well in any profession
    • Bring a fresh, new perspective to a research team
    • Make a real contribution to knowledge that could benefit society
    • Undergraduates start at different stages in their college careers. We recommend waiting to make a commitment to a faculty member until after you feel comfortable with coursework at Temple and with the pace of college life.
    • Identify your interests: What excites you? What do you want to learn more about? Are there particular classes or professors who light you up?
    • Talk to people!
      • Faculty: Go to office hours. Ask your professors about their research. Ask how their research interests evolved. Ask if there are other courses they would recommend for you to gain more experience in a particular area. Read about their work online beforehand so you are better prepared with questions and topics to discuss. More useful tips on preparing to meet with faculty.
      • Kerry Milch, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Enrichment. Kerry is happy to help you brainstorm ideas, discuss elements of the undergraduate research experience, and provide general guidance for getting started. Email her with questions or to set up a meeting on Zoom.
      • Undergraduate Research Peer Mentors
    • Volunteer: In some cases you may be able to jump into a paid position or do research for credit. But many times you will have to begin as a volunteer and build trust by establishing yourself as a reliable, hard-working team player.

    Creative Arts, Research, And Scholarship (CARAS) Program

    A funding opportunity to encourage and support undergraduate students engaged in scholarly, creative, and research projects that contribute to advancing their field of study. Two types of grants are made through the CARAS program: Research/Creative Project Grants and Travel Grants. More Information

    Diamond Research Scholars Program

    The Diamond Research Scholars Program offers a seven-month long funded research experience under the direction of a faculty mentor. Participants receive a summer stipend and register for a research or independent study course in the fall for their research or creative arts project. More Information

    Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity

    The Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity (formerly TURF - CreWS), held annually in the spring, provides undergraduates the opportunity to present their research and creative work to the university community. More Information

    At Temple:

    Beyond Temple:

    • CUR Posters on the Hill
    • CARAS travel grants (funding for travel to present at a conference)
    • Many professional membership organizations (American Geophysical Union, Association for Psychological Science, etc.) hold annual meetings that include opportunities to present papers and posters. Talk with your faculty mentor to learn more.
  • October 15, 2021: Deadline to apply for a winter/spring CARAS project grant.
    • Council on Undergraduate Research: Temple has an enhanced institutional membership, so all students, faculty, and staff may join for free. Learn about funding opportunities, research positions, tips, and more.
    • Pathways to Science: Database of summer research experiences for undergraduates (REUs), scholarships, institutes, and more.
    • Office of Scholar Development and Fellowships Advising: This Temple office maintains an updated list of opportunities for Temple-based and external hands-on research and teaching experiences. Their staff are available to provide guidance to students throughout the process of considering opportunities and applying for nationally competitive fellowships.
    • Subject-area Librarians at Temple: Specialist librarians are available to assist students from all majors in finding resources.
    • Sign up for the Enrichment Programs newsletter: Stay updated on the latest opportunities, events, and resources related to undergraduate research and peer teaching.

    Contact Us

    • Questions about where to start? Interested in brainstorming ideas, discussing interests, or approaching faculty? Make an appointment with Kerry Milch, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Enrichment.
    • Want to connect with a fellow student who has successfully completed the Diamond Research Scholars program or a CARAS project? These students are happy to chat with you!  
    • Farther along in your research career? Thinking of applying for competitive post-graduate fellowships or scholarships? Make an appointment with the Office of Scholar Development and Fellowships Advising, through Handshake.
    • Are you a faculty member or administrator with questions about undergraduate research at Temple? Contact Emily Moerer, Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Enrichment.