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FREE MONEY: Student research funds remain unused

Faculty and students pose for a photo at the 46th Annual Meeting of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Biologists where they presented their research. Photo courtesy of Millersville University.

Julia Walters
Associate News Editor

Millersville is a great university for a number of reasons, one of them being the immense opportunities available for students to complete undergraduate research. Every academic year, a decent sum of money is allocated specifically for research that students can use if they choose to pursue these research opportunities. The only problem is that much of this money goes unnoticed and, therefore, unused.

Dr. Rene Muñoz, the Director of Sponsored Projects and Research Administration, said that only about 10 percent of juniors and seniors even take a chance and apply for research grants. One reason for this could be the fact that these grants are dispersed over a multitude of departments and for specialized research.

However, the university does try to combat this by keeping much of the information on most grants in the library with Dr. Muñoz. “We try to centralize them here so there’s one place for students to go to look for this opportunity,” Muñoz explained. “We’ve got twelve or thirteen linked on my office’s web pages, but there may be more out there. It’s hard to know how great of awareness there is.”

Another main issue revolving around the grants is that students, though they may be aware of the fact that these opportunities exist for them, do not believe that they will be able to succeed. Students often prematurely think that they aren’t intelligent or dedicated enough to conduct an entire research project. However, Dr. Muñoz talked about why this shouldn’t be a concern.

“It’s mine and the faculty’s job to help you get through that process. It can seem overwhelming, but if you give yourself time and take it in small steps, it’s not that bad and completely doable. That fear or under-confidence doesn’t need to be there.” With the faculty advising students and working with them throughout the entire process, students do not need to be excessively overwhelmed by the venture.

If students were to simply try and propose a research project, they might be surprised by the response. According to Dr. Muñoz, “We make every effort to fund everybody and try to fund as many students as we can. We don’t want to turn any student away because getting money and engaging in a project is a valuable experience.”

As long as students think through their plans and how they want to engage in their project, they will most likely be accepted. Dr. Muñoz continued, “You don’t have to sell us on it; you just have to give us a plan, propose it, and you’re on your way.”

Considering the immense benefits that conducting an undergraduate research project can have, it is unfortunate that too few students even try and take the opportunity. The benefits are clear on multiple levels. 

“In terms of student-professional development, just doing the work and engaging in the activity is important. It will also have educational-professional improvement. Once the student graduates or looks for an internship, this is something they can put on their resume or CV,” Dr. Muñoz continued. “You end up graduating with more than just having earned a degree. It shows employers that you went out and did something.” 

Now more than ever, there is an increased interest in research projects. Dr. Muñoz talked about this more in detail: “Our new president [Dr. Wubah] wants to boost undergraduate research on campus, so students should be funded when they want to do a project.” This means that even more students will be set up for success. Though, Dr. Muñoz said, “if the students never ask for the money, they’ll never get it.”