Undergraduates get a jump on graduate school


Danielle Gray, assistant dean of academic affairs and diversity in Princeton's Graduate School, discusses summer research projects with Jason Russell, a junior at Claflin University.

Below left: Raymond Steath, a senior at Prairie View A&M University, explains his project to, from right: Kiri Sailiata, a senior at Macalester College; Tanti Loe, a junior at Smith College; and Erika O'Bannon, a junior at Boston College.

Photos: John Jameson

Before this summer, college junior Keith Lucas was already thinking about graduate school. But he just wasn't sure whether the lifestyle was for him.

Lucas, a philosophy major at the College of New Jersey, is one of 11 undergraduates from around the country selected to spend this summer on Princeton University's campus in a program intended to give them a taste of life as a graduate student.

After several weeks conducting research with Princeton graduate students and faculty members and living on campus with other highly motivated undergraduates, Lucas said, "I'm more than likely to go to graduate school due to this experience."

The students are enrolled in the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, a nine-week program for undergraduates who express a serious interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and following a career in college or university teaching and research. Sponsored by Princeton's Graduate School, the program is intended to prepare students to make competitive applications to research doctoral programs. Undergraduates who are minorities, who are from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds or who are from liberal arts colleges are especially encouraged to apply. Students receive a stipend and a travel allowance.

Each student works with a Princeton faculty member, either as a research assistant in a laboratory project in the sciences and engineering or as an advisee in editing and writing research papers in the humanities and social sciences. The students have an opportunity to give several brief oral presentations about their work during the course of the summer and, at the end, must write a final paper and deliver a 20-minute speech about their research.


Raymond Steath, a senior at Prairie View A&M University, has worked with Edward Eigen, a lecturer in Princeton's School of Architecture, on a historical and graphic portrayal of a major fire at the Houses of Parliament in London in 1834. "[Professor Eigen] was able to provide a tremendous amount of information," Steath said. "And he was very efficient with helping me to conduct research at Firestone Library."

He added that the Princeton experience has made him "100 percent convinced" that he wants to attend graduate school in architecture. Other students have worked on projects concerning discrimination in the low-wage labor market and African-American voting rights.

In addition to meeting weekly with faculty members to discuss research design, methods and progress, the students have attended sessions on graduate school application, financial aid, graduate student life and academic life, in general, organized by Danielle Gray, assistant dean of academic affairs and diversity in the Graduate School.

Participants also attended the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Symposium July 29-31 in Massachusetts, where they made presentations, joined in workshops and participated in networking and career-building sessions. The alliance is a consortium of 31 leading research and teaching institutions, including the eight Ivy League schools, dedicated to improving the participation of underserved and underrepresented students in graduate studies and research professions.

Kiri Sailiata, a senior American studies major from Macalester College, said the Princeton program has boosted her self-assurance and broadened the range of graduate schools to which she'll apply. "This program has increased my confidence that I will perform well at institutions like these," she said.