Students Look Towards the Summer for Research Opportunities

As COVID-19 cases continue to drop and vaccination rates continue to rise across the country, many Swarthmore students look forward to what experiences the summer will bring. For some students, their plans this summer revolve around on- and off- campus research through different college departments.

The process of applying for research funding this summer differed significantly from previous years due to COVID-19 restrictions. As they were going through the application process for summer research funding, students had to submit a virtual backup plan in case in-person research or travel was not possible. Students who were awarded research funding did not officially find out until March 31 that summer research on campus was possible, after Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton sent out an email to the campus community.

In Willie-LeBreton’s email, she described how there would be a prioritized, restricted number of students living residing on campus for research, compared to previous years where students could rely on residing on campus for research after receiving an award for funding. The email also explainedconveyed that students would be able to use funding to travel domestically but not internationally, which is different from normal summers when students could travel freely without social distancing concerns.

Joseph Scott ’22 plans on doing research this summer on campus, where he will be working on an organo-aluminum complex and its catalytic abilities with the department of chemistry. In addition to conducting research, he eagerly awaits the prospect of engaging with fellow student researchers. 

“I’m hoping for increased social interaction among the summer students on campus,” he wrote to The Phoenix. “I want to make new friends as this socially-draining pandemic resolves!”

If the majority of the community on campus isare vaccinated, students have expressed curiosity about the extent to which the college will enforce social distancing protocols. 

“I just got fully vaccinated, and I expect that mostly everyone on campus (or at least in my lab) will be too, so I’m not worried about COVID,” Scott wrote. “I just hope they actually ease up the COVID precautions and rules when people are vaccinated.”

Currently, members of the College administration anticipate that students staying in summer housing will have similar Garnet Pledge expectations to the spring semester. 

In an email on May 5, the COVID-19 planning group released more information about expectations this summer. Visitors will be allowed on campus grounds (although not buildings) starting on June 7, and fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear a mask outdoors unless in a group of more than five people.

“At this time, social distancing policies are still recommended nationally, so residential students will still be encouraged to socially distance,” Director of Residential Communities Star Longoria wrote to The Phoenix.

Longoria emphasized that these expectations, however, will adapt to guidelines from CDC and the college’s medical advisors as they are made available. 

“Our main goal is to safely provide summer housing opportunities to those who need it and maintain a safe working environment for our campus partners like Environmental Services (EVS), Dining Services, and Public Safety,” she wrote.

To maintain a safe environment, the college is offering single-occupancy rooms in residence halls with air conditioning. The college is offering about 200 beds on campus this summer, more than the average of 160-170 beds in previous summers.

Academic Divisional Programs and Operational Manager Debbie Thompson works with the housing office to verify the awardees of academic division funding to ensure that students whose research must be done on campus are given priority for summer housing. She described how the college community has shown its strength by adjusting to challenges this past year and upcoming summer.

“I have been impressed with students for their resilience, faculty for their patience, and staff for their understanding,” she wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “Equally, I am impressed with the College overall for spending the time and energy to adjust to the challenges that this pandemic has brought, while considering the safety and well-being of every person in the campus community.”

As some students look forward to staying in residential halls, others will be working on departmental research remotely from their homes.

Elizabeth Brown ’23 will be doing remote research on material physics from her home this summer. 

“Compared to those on campus, I’ll be missing out on working in the lab and it will be more individual work than it might be with everyone on campus,” she wrote to The Phoenix. “But, I think the data analysis and computational work is similar to what I would be doing on campus.”

Although visitors in residence halls will still be prohibited, according to Longoria, there may be opportunities for off-campus students to enter some campus buildings if they are near campus.

“Non-residential students may be allowed to come to campus to complete summer opportunities, but access to campus buildings will be limited to only those buildings that they must access to complete their work,” she wrote.

Camryn Slosky ’22 will also be working on campus this summer, doing developmental biology research for her senior thesis in neuroscience. She hopes that this summer will bring new experiences and more of a focus on her work.

“I have never spent a summer at Swarthmore before and am excited to dedicate all of my time solely to research,” she wrote to The Phoenix. “I am looking forward to not having to juggle classes on top of research and dedicating myself to my own project full time.”

Photo courtesy of Dan King.

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