For many college students, getting research experience is a part of the “college experience.” But finding research opportunities isn’t always the easiest.
So freshman computer science major Pranav Dulepet developed an iPhone app called CollegeRO to make it easier for undergraduates to pursue research opportunities by modernizing access to information from the Maryland Student Researchers database.
At the University of Maryland, the Maryland Center for Undergraduate Research manages the Maryland Student Researchers database alongside consulting with students about pursuing research and running the annual Maryland Summer Scholars Program, which funds independent research for students to do under faculty mentorship.
The database has about 200 opportunities per semester that are submitted by faculty members across all colleges and research centers using a form on the website. Each listing includes information on the project that the faculty member is seeking assistance on, required skills, contact information and keywords, which are useful for filtering the projects.
Last summer, Dulepet explored the database to look for research opportunities he would be interested in going after in the future. After experiencing his own search, he wanted to improve the process of finding opportunities at this university and others.
“I found that it was a pretty unique way of listing all these opportunities because not many other schools that I know of have a similar thing or something that’s as easily accessible,” he said.
CollegeRO is more mobile-friendly than the existing database and allows users to set notifications for projects filtered by keywords and specifications, Dupelet said.
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The first version of the app, UMDRO, was published on the App Store before the beginning of the fall semester but was renamed CollegeRO to expand the app to serve other universities after seeing success at this university, Dulepet said.
MCUR’s graduate coordinator Lisa Carney and director Francis DuVinage coordinated with Dulepet to make the experience optimal for students, such as enabling postings on the app to be updated in real-time with the center’s database.
“It was very collaborative and just a very exciting thing to find a way to get more students to the content that we have,” Carney said. “At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing is getting students to these listings so that they can reach out to the professors.”
Some freshmen found the app especially helpful for learning about research opportunities and hot topics in their fields.
Freshman computer science and economics major Pavan Varthakavi said he looked for computer science opportunities on the app but ultimately did not pursue one.
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“It’s kind of hard doing it outside of the app because [there are] like so many venues you have to check … so many people you have to communicate with,” he said. “The app really centralizes it.”
Freshman computer science major Shrey Varma recently downloaded CollegeRO. He does not expect to participate in research this early in his college career, but he used the app to learn about what he could do in the future.
Although Varma is unsure of what he would want to work on and has more experience in his major to gain, he said he will know where to look when the time comes.
Carney explained that undergraduate research is a part of experiential learning and is available in the arts and humanities and “not just for STEM students.”
“Anyone in any field can do research as an undergrad,” Carney said. “[It] can really enhance your overall college experience [and] supplement your coursework by giving you that really practical experience and can lead to really cool things.”