Student Research Partners Program

Students gain hands-on experience with scholarship in a specific field with the Student Research Partners ProgramGeared toward incoming first-year students, this program pairs a student with a faculty mentor to work on a project related to the faculty member's research or creative area. Students gain hands-on experience with scholarship in a specific field, and may elect to continue during their sophomore year. Participation is selective, based on high academic achievement.

Students are expected to work a maximum of 7 hours per week, for a compensation of $10/hour. Up to $800 can be earned as a Student Research Partner over the course of the year.

If you are interested in this program, view the list of available projects below, think about what interests you, and fill out the online application form.

We will be hosting a reception in the KC living room on September 13 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. for interested students to meet and talk further with the faculty members. Completed applications are due on Saturday, September 16 by 4 p.m. online. Faculty sponsors will choose their SRP students by September 25.

If you have questions, please contact either Dr. Ian MacInnes () or Renee Kreger () for more information.

Here is the (growing) list of projects available for 2017-2018:

SRP 2017-2018 DESCRIPTIONS

There are projects available in the areas shown below.

ONLINE APPLICATION - CLICK HERE

ANTHROPOLOGY

Cultural Anthropology with Dr. Allison Harnish

Project Description: In 1958, 57,000 Gwembe Tonga were forcibly displaced by the construction of Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia in southern Africa. The resettlement was a traumatic event for the Tonga people, whose homes, ancestral grounds, and productive cropland were consumed by the man-made Lake. Although the Tonga bore the social costs associated with the dam, it was primarily people from outside the dam basin who enjoyed its benefits, as the dam was built to generate hydroelectric power for the mines in the Zambian Copperbelt. Other industries associated with fishing, tourism, and irrigation benefited from the new reservoir—which remains today the world’s largest by volume. Today, many of the relocated Gwembe Tonga struggle to eke a living in marginal lands with limited access to electricity and basic infrastructure. Tonga who have voluntarily resettled to fertile lands abutting Kafue National Park are regularly harassed by wildlife police officers and fear they may be relocated a second time to make way for wildlife tourism. Over the last sixty years, researchers have sought to understand the long-term social and environmental impacts of Kariba Dam while advocating for the Gwembe Tonga and other communities affected by similar large-scale international development projects. This project is a continuation of such research. 

Student Responsibilities: The student research partner will assist in the transcription of interviews conducted in summer 2017. Much of this work will utilize Microsoft Word and Google Drive. 

Qualifications: Preference will be given to students with interests in anthropology and sociology, African studies, women’s and gender studies, international development, postcolonial studies, and/or environmental studies. Applicants must have good writing and time management skills as well as a solid work ethic. Strong organizational skills and an ability to work independently are a must. 

Archaeology with Dr. Brad Chase

Project Description: I study the ancient Indus Civilization, the first urban society in what is now India and Pakistan.  One of the most ubiquitous—yet least studied—objects produced by Indus artisans were small white beads made of fired steatite (soapstone).  These objects were mass produced from rare raw materials using what at the time was a “secret” technology and circulated widely distributed throughout the civilization—yet were not among the personal items buried with the dead.  In short, they have many physical properties of currency, similar to metal coinage in later historical periods.  While I know that these beads are widely distributed based on my personal experience with excavations and publications, the distribution of these objects in time and space needs to be documented in a more systematic way than has yet been undertaken.

Student Responsibilities: The student research partner will assist in the documentation of all occurrences of steatite beads at archaeological sites in India and Pakistan.  The first task will be to go through the annual reports of the Archaeological Survey of India, the governmental body that oversees archaeological research in the country, tagging every occurrence of these beads along with information about the archaeological site from which they were found.

Qualifications: The most important qualities that I am looking for is care, initiative, and an ability to work independently. I will be happy to consider any interested student for the position, although preference will be given to students who are specifically interested in archaeology.

Back to top

BIOLOGY

Genomic Analysis of the Ebola and Zika viruses with Dr. Ken Saville

Project Description: In this project, students will explore the concepts and skills of genome data analysis through the investigation of data obtained from two landmark studies: 1) The genome sequence analysis of 99 sequenced Ebola strains from the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in Africa and a study investigating the mechanism by which the Zika virus infects human cortical neurons, leading to microcephaly.

SRP Responsibilities: While this in itself is not independent research, it is a project through which students will learn the latest bioinformatics (computer-based) techniques for genome sequence and gene expression analyses. Once these skills are learned students can design their own bioinformatics research project.

The initial project would entail working through a published handbook (the ‘BIOSTARS’ handbook) to learn bioinformatics tools beginning with basic unix commands through finding and downloading genetic data from remote databases and analyzing this data with a variety of bioinformatics tools.

Student Qualifications: No prior computer experience is necessary, but a willingness to learn and work independently through challenges is essential.

Ecology: The invertebrates of Michigan with Dr. Abigail Cahill

Project description: This project will explore the invertebrates that live an inland salt marsh, an extremely rare habitat in Michigan. Due to the presence of an ocean in this area tens of millions of years ago, rock salt deposits exist in the region, sometimes close enough to the surface to influence the species that live there. Although some data exist about the plant species present in these communities, very little is known about the invertebrates (insects, worms, snails, spiders, etc.). We will sample one of these communities to begin to identify and classify the animals that are found there. Are they similar to animals found outside the salt marsh? Have they adapted to salt marsh life?

SRP responsibilities: The SRP will assist in the sampling of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates from the field, followed by sorting and processing in the lab. The student will also assist in setup and organization of the lab space we will be using. Future tasks may include helping to identify specimens using morphology and genetic techniques, as well as maintenance of invertebrates in the lab (feeding and water changes).

Student qualifications: The SRP should have an interest in biology, as well as a willingness to work both outside in the field and inside in the lab. I expect the student to be responsible, reliable, and able to work independently.

Dawn behavior of male and female House Wrens with Dr. Dale Kennedy and Dr. Doug White 

Project description:  Much is known about dawn singing by male birds but little is known about early morning behavior of female birds.  In Summer 2017, we used audio recorders to obtain songs of male House Wrens at their nests during the incubation period (when females are sitting eggs in the nest).  Our automated recorders started one hour before sunrise and continued recording for one hour after sunrise.  In addition, we recorded at nest boxes in evenings, one hour before sunset through one hour after sunset.  We used iButtons™ (small, temperature data loggers) in nest cups to determine the incubation activity of females.  We are interested in:  (1) the relationship between dawn singing by males and earliest time of nest leaving by incubating females; and (2) the relationship between dusk singing patterns of males and when females enter their nests for nighttime incubation.  Do females leave nests in the morning when males begin singing (around civil twilight, about 25 minutes before sunrise) or later (closer to sunrise)?  Do males change location during their early-morning singing and sing closer to the nest to “signal” females when it is light enough for them to leave their nests to forage (around sunrise)?  Do males sing in the evening?  When do females enter their nests relative to sunset and male singing (if there is any evening singing)?

SRP responsibilities: Our student research partner(s) would be responsible for working with us on audio files and learning to analyze vocalizations using Avisoft LabSAS, a sound analysis software program that creates a visual representation of vocalizations.  In addition, the SRP may learn to use Audacity, a different sound analysis program.  The SRP would also go through iButton™ records for female departure times and ambient temperatures on recording days.  The SRP may be involved in other activities, such as creating and maintaining a spreadsheet of information, transferring some audio clips, and carrying out a literature search on related research projects.  We anticipate that the SRP will present the results of the project at the Biology Research Symposium and perhaps at the Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium in Spring 2018. 

Student qualifications: The SRP should possess curiosity and interest in animal behavior and biology, be reliable, well-organized, and willing to observe and carefully transcribe many hours of vocalizations.  The SRP should make this project a priority over extra-curricular events that arise in the semester.

Back to top

CHEMISTRY

Designing and chemically synthesizing small molecules to manipulate biological systems with Dr. Craig Streu (biochemistry)

Project Description: Work in the Streu group revolves around designing and chemically synthesizing small molecules to manipulate biological systems. There are numerous ways to manipulate biological systems, but one of most common is to create small molecules that prevent an enzyme from performing its normal function in a cell. Enzymes are responsible for a large number of the functions within cells and so malfunctioning enzymes are the cause of many or most human diseases. In some cases, the molecules that we design are used to learn more about how an enzyme or other biological molecule works in a cell by stopping its normal function. This works much the same way that flipping a light switch allows us to figure out what electronics that particular switch controls. In other cases, the molecules we make are designed to reverse an undesirable action of an enzyme or other biological molecule that is causing a particular disease. In this case, these molecules have potential as pharmaceuticals. The latest work in this lab involves making molecules that can manipulate biological systems in response to light. Lux Fiat!

Responsibilities: You must be able to work safely in the laboratory. While this is not a truly independent project, you will learn the skills that will allow you to eventually work increasingly independently.

Qualifications: No prior experience is necessary, but an interest in the intersection of chemistry and biology will be key. Since this project is designed to help you eventually work independently, the ideal student is one that intends to continue with research in chemistry or biochemistry fields following the completion of the SRP.

Chemistry/Webapp Development with Dr. Lisa B. Lewis

Project Description: Chemical Valence is a native iOS app developed by Lisa Lewis and Alex Clark  (Ph.D. & founder of Molecular Materials Informatics) to support student learning of molecular structure. We are looking to convert the native app (coded in Objective C and HTML) into an HTML/TypeScript-based webapp program so that it will run on all mobile platforms.

Student Responsibilities: Working together with Lewis and Clark, the SRP will be responsible for writing the code necessary for converting the iOS app into a webapp. The student will have the original Objective-C source code and access to the appropriate cheminformatics libraries.

Student Qualifications: The ideal candidate will have experience in writing code and programs in HTML. The SRP will know TypeScript or have extensive experience in JavaScript programming. (Knowledge of JavaScript can support the quick learning of TypeScript.) Programming ability in Objective C is a plus but not required. The successful student will be a self-starter and reliable.

Back to top

COMMUNICATION STUDIES

Media Artifacts Research with Dr. Andy Boyan

Project Description: This project involves researching and cataloguing obsolete media artifacts such as records, film, video game consoles, video games, telegraphs, typewriters, and other obscure, and not-so-obscure media from the past. There will be handling of antique items, organizing, internet research, and typing.

SRP Responsibilities: The student will confer with me on a set of media artifacts to research in a given week. The student will investigate each object for defects or damage, see how they work, and research their purpose and history online. The student will then write short summaries of each object (3-4 sentences each) as if it were for display in a museum. Occasionally this research may include items that have not yet been purchased. In this case the student will assist in the logistics of purchasing, shipping, and storing the artifacts.

Qualifications: A passionate interest in music, film, and other media. The ability to write clear, concise text without grammatical errors. The ability to work on a variety of tasks and track progress across multiple sub-projects. Be an interesting person. Be willing to listen to the occasional tangent. Have an open mind to all genres of music, even if you prefer some over others.

The proposal is open to students at large. If you have a mind for tinkering and fixing that is a plus, but not required. Would be open to one or possibly two students.

Back to top

ENGLISH

Professional Writing with Dr. Ian MacInnes

Project Description: As an Arts & Humanities Counselor for the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR), I am responsible in part for creating content for two ongoing projects. One is the CUR Arts and Humanities blog site; the other is a wider site dedicated to integrating research into the undergraduate curriculum. I am looking for a student who will work with me to create search engine optimized (SEO) content for these two sites. Content might include best practices, white papers, tips, and descriptions of past undergraduate research projects. Participating in the project will help you understand the wide range of possibilities for scholarship and creative activity in your area of interest. It is also a great preparation for a future free-lance writer.

SRP responsibilities: My student research partner will be responsible for working with me to develop a list of topics, learning to write SEO content, doing some basic research and reading on the topics, and writing material for me to edit. The SRP will receive byline credit for any content.

Student qualifications: My SRP should have strong writing skills, wide ranging interests in the arts or humanities, and a willingness to develop general research skills.

Back to top

GEOLOGY

Paleontology Research and Collections Curation with Dr. William S. Bartels

Project Description: The research partner will work in Dr. Bartels’ laboratory. Research will be conducted on a variety of plant, invertebrate and vertebrate fossils from various locations and ages of North America.

Student Responsibilities: The research partner will learn and perform basic paleontological laboratory methods such as fossil preparation, conservation, identification, and cataloguing. The student will also learn various scientific investigative procedures such as morphological character analysis, morphometrics (size and shape analysis), and systematic zoology.

Fossil collections to be worked on include: a vast collection of Devonian brachiopods with epibiont animals (corals, bryozoans, etc.) preserved on them; a very large collection of Pennsylvanian vascular plants (and other fossils) from the famous Mazon Creek locality in Illinois; and a variety of Eocene of turtles, lizards, snakes, and crocodylians from Wyoming.

Qualifications: The student should have an academic/career interest in paleontology. The partner should be well-organized, dependable, be able to follow directions, and be able to work independently. Great familiarity and experience with Excel is required as is neat handwriting. Previous hands-on experience with fossils and museum procedures is highly desirable.

Back to top

MUSIC

The History of the Albion College Choir with Dr. Clayton Parr

Project Description

We have quite a bit of historical information on the choir but it has never been gathered in one place.  The student researcher will help compile the history of the choir, by going through Music Department documents, programs, photos, yearbooks and College archives, with the goal of producing a book, in print and/or electronic form, to be published in the future for alumni and friends of the choir.

Student responsibilities

Gather and compile information and photos from College and Music Dept. archives
Work with Dr. Parr to draft text for the publication
Work with Dr. Parr on layout and physical appearance of final published product 

Qualifications

Ability to work independently on research
Basic computer skills (use of scanner, database, word processing, etc.)
Good writing skills
Publication layout experience welcome but not required

Back to top

PHYSICS

Scientific Coding, Spectroscopy, and a Slice of Pi with Dr. Philip Voss

Project Description: Gamma rays are very high-energy photons (tiny particles of light) that arise from a variety of processes such as the complex interactions between protons and neutrons inside the atomic nucleus. On a macroscopic level, gamma rays are used in fields as diverse as nuclear engineering, medicine, environmental science, and national security. The efficient detection (it’s hard!) and careful use (they’re powerful!) of gamma rays is therefore a central focus of much experimental work.

At Albion College, a detector called a “gamma-ray spectrometer” is undergoing an upgrade process. Its operation merges the knowledge of physics with cryogenics, high-voltage, and vacuum systems. Yet this interesting technology is only as good as the computational tools available for data sorting and analysis. Clearly, the ability to program a computer to complete these tasks is an important part of experimental physics! The aim of this project is to design, write, and test data-conversion software to permit local data analysis using tools well-established by the nuclear physics community.

SRP Responsibilities: The student research partner (SRP) and I will work together to develop and test such a code. The SRP will also have the opportunity to collect test data with both the gamma-ray spectrometer and smaller-scale scintillator detectors. The software will be developed within a UNIX environment on a pocket-sized Raspberry Pi computer which will be provided to the student. The SRP will also be responsible for documenting the steps in creating the software and constructing a user manual for its use. I anticipate the SRP will present the results of this project within the Physics Department and perhaps at the Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium in Spring 2017.

Student Qualifications: The SRP should possess curiosity and interest in physics or computer programming. I value reliability, initiative, and the ability to work independently. Though we will meet weekly, the SRP must be comfortable utilizing internet resources for help in overcoming potential difficulties. A background in computer programming is essential; what counts as an appropriate “background” is broadly defined.

Back to top

POLITICAL SCIENCE

International Responses to Mass Atrocity Crimes with Dr. Carrie Booth Walling

Brief Description of the Project:  I am looking for a student to assist me in initiating or completing a series of research and writing projects in the general area of international responses to mass atrocity crimes, including responses by the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court.   

Student Responsibilities: Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, student responsibilities will include monitoring media coverage on selected cases, conducting scholarly literature searches, creating annotated bibliographies, reviewing literature in the field, examining and analyzing United Nations Security Council documents, editing manuscripts and helping to get them publication ready (copyediting), and helping to prepare conference presentations. The projects that I am working on include a book chapter on international responses to genocide post-1945, a book chapter on the influence of human rights norms on the UN Security Council decision-making, an article on the relationship between the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and a conference paper on the evolution of the justice norm (accountability through human rights trials for international crimes). Student case studies will include ISIS atrocities against the Yazidis in Iraq, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, and Security Council decision-making in Syria, among others.   

Desired Qualities for Student Research Partner: I am looking for a student research partner who is interested in learning more about human rights, international organizations or international politics. The student should be organized and self-motivated and able to work well independently but still have room in their schedule to meet with me on a weekly basis. The student should have good written and oral communication skills and be willing to learn new things. The student should be reliable and have good interpersonal skills.  Attention to detail and thoroughness when completing tasks is especially desired. The position is open to students exploring all majors but students with a particular interest in political science are especially encouraged to apply. Exceptional student researchers may be asked to continue their research for a second year.

Back to top 

PSYCHOLOGY

Neuroscience and Behavior: Earthworms with Dr. Jeff Wilson

Project Description: All animals are capable of learning. We know a lot about learning in rats, cats, pigeons, people, and other vertebrates. We know less about learning in invertebrates: for example we know very little about learning in earthworms. Our lab has developed a running wheel for earthworms; we use it to monitor their crawling behavior, and to allow them to control their environment. Worms like darkness: if worms can turn off a bright light by crawling, they crawl more. If crawling makes a light come on, they crawl less. We will examine the characteristics of this instrumental learning in earthworms: how long do they take to learn, how long does their memory last, are these answers the same for both reward and punishment...? We will then address the changes in the worm's nervous system that allow the learning to occur. This work will add to our understanding of learning and memory in more complex creatures, including humans.

Student Responsibilities: The student research partner will be a member of a team responsible for helping to care for the earthworms (feeding them, changing their bedding), for conducting the behavioral experiments (loading computer programs, placing worms into and removing them from running wheels), compiling and analyzing the data, and eventually designing additional studies. Time commitment will vary from a few hours to 8 hours per week.

Qualifications: An effective research partner will be intensely curious about the world and eager to learn. The student should be responsible, reliable, and capable of independent work. Experience with spreadsheets is a plus. The student must like animals and be willing to treat them with care and respect. For some background on our research, and some videos, go to http://campus.albion.edu/wjwilson/research/

Creativity, Cognition, and Empathy with Dr. Andrea Francis & Dr. Mareike Wieth

Project Description: The CCE Research Laboratory at Albion College, supervised by Drs. Andrea Francis and Mareike Wieth, has been investigating the relationship between language production, creativity, empathy, and stress hormones. We are looking for help with two specific projects. The first project examines the relationship between paraphrasing, memory, and creativity. The second project examines the impact of mood on empathy and stress hormones (measured through cortisol levels). For both projects, students will learn how to conduct psychological experiments, including the collection and analysis of data.

Student Responsibilities: Responsibilities will involve assisting us in collecting, entering, and analyzing data across these ongoing projects. In addition, participation in project and lab meetings is expected, and opportunities will be available for helping organize, design, and complete appropriate follow-up experiments. In addition to the usual SRP benefits, the student will have the opportunity to be an author on resulting conference presentations and/or publications related to this project.

Student Qualifications: It would be best if the student had an interest in one or more of the following academic areas: psychology, biology, english and/ or neuroscience. A high school course in statistics would also be helpful, but is not essential. This position will provide an excellent grounding for continued study in any of these analytical disciplines. 

Back to top 

SOCIAL SCIENCE (interdisciplinary)

Women in Science with Dr. Nicolle Zellner (Physics) and Dr. Holger Elischberger (Psychology)

Project Description: Even though girls and boys are equally capable in math and science and equally likely to study science in high school and college, studies have shown that there is a paucity of women who graduate college with science degrees. Even fewer women go on to graduate school, and a mere fraction end up with a PhD conducting research at an academic institution. Some fields are more “female friendly” than others, but when data for retention of women actually working “in the field” are collected, Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science regularly show up at the bottom. I am interested in evaluating how conference attendance (1) reflects the presence of women and (2) affects the retention of women in the field of Planetary Science or Origins of Life.

SRP Responsibilities: The student will need to sort through names in an existing file of conference registration lists, to see who attends the meeting each year. The student will also need to sort through on-line lists of names of speakers for each year of other relevant conferences and record the names (and other information). Once all the data are collected, the student will work with faculty to see if any trends exist in the data sets.

Qualifications: The student should be well organized and detail oriented. Familiarity with using Excel to organize and graph data is highly desired.

Back to top