Students at the School of General Studies will have an easier time finding grant opportunities and accessing faculty research with a new website, ProjectLever, which was launched this month.
GS Dean of Students Tom Harford said the website was like an "academic Match.com." A pilot run started on November 4.
"A student can log on and enter into a search field something like 'Sustainability in Sub-Saharan Africa,' and it will lead you to all of the resources at the University via professors who have published in the field, grants that have come to the University of the field, any kind of resource in that regard," Harford said.
Svetlana Dotsenko, founder of ProjectLever, started the website at Massachusetts Institute of Technology last December to give students access to faculty research. The project has since spread to other schools, including the University of Notre Dame and Johns Hopkins University.
In the fall, Eduard Grigoryan, GS '16 and the academic affairs representative for General Studies Student Council, coordinated with Dotsenko about bringing the start-up to Columbia.
"In the middle of this process, Svetlana contacted me and said that she had an amazing software that helps students connect with faculty to find grants and research opportunities," Grigoryan said, adding that at Columbia, "there was no centralized system for research opportunities."
"We're essentially a very young project, and we're still growing," Dotseko said. Even if only a few research articles were published because students "have been able to find connections—that's really all we want," Dotsenko said.
Dotseko said that the website uses an algorithm—which is updated often to reflect changes in opportunities—that data mines all current research opportunities at a university so students can search for specific research topics of interest.
Harford said keeping the algorithm up to date is essential for ongoing research projects, but he believes that the software will benefit both students and advisors in GS.
"It'll streamline their efforts, and it'll help them manage their time more efficiently," Harford said. "And ours, I should add, because clearly if a student is able to access these resources, they come in as an informed advisee, and we're able to have a conversation with them that has already moved ahead quite considerably."
Though it's in a pilot phase right now, Harford will evaluate the website at the end of the semester to determine whether it should stay permanently.
Students interviewed this weekend said they thought the site would be helpful but were waiting for the database to grow before signing up.
Alan Jabbour, GS '17, has not signed up for the program because he wants to wait until more opportunities have been added to the database.
"It already looks awesome," Jabbour said. "Right now, you have to network a lot to find out who does what. You kind of waste a lot of time doing that."
Jabbour added that the website "saves you a lot of time."
Robert LeDesma, GS '14, said that he believes the website will have the opportunity to help a lot of GS students.
"I wish ProjectLever existed when I first got here," LeDesma said. "In all the involvement I've had with General Studies, it all circles around this theme of helping students that come after me—making their transitions and lives a just a little bit easier."
"It'll help bridge the gap between students and faculty communications," he added.
"If students take advantage of this opportunity and they connect with faculty members and do research, it may definitely help them get into graduate schools, Ph.D. programs, or just expand their knowledge and experiences," Grigoryan said.
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