We can and should do more when it comes to offering our students research opportunities. The cutting edge of research shouldn’t just be available to Ph.D.s, graduate students, and faculty. Rather, there should be more of an active effort to recruit undergraduates into these positions. I don’t say this because I am envious of research in higher education — it’s a well-known fact that undergraduates have access to as many, or even more resources, than grad students here — but because I see a waste of resources in putting the majority of our students in nonacademic campus jobs.
Research offers the easiest way to target jobs by student interest, so I offer that as a concrete example. One way we can make research on campus more transparent and more accessible to undergraduates is by creating a database of available research opportunities with sponsoring faculty.
Typically, the onus has been placed on the student to reach out to faculty members that they have an interest in conducting research with, but we can do a better job of fostering research on this campus. Instead of making students cold-email professors, we can create a University-wide list of professors conducting research. That list could briefly summarize what kind of research is being offered and what kind of educational background — classes or skills — is required. A widely accessible list of such opportunities would not only be conducive to more research on campus, it very well could provoke it.
Summer research positions are one thing, but there’s more we can do in the way of incentivizing research through the year as campus jobs. My goal here is not to create research for research’s sake, but to spur intellectual thought through meaningful campus employment that aligns with student interests. Current campus jobs are predominantly more conventional ones, like working the desk at Frist or washing dishes at Forbes.
I’m not saying that we completely do away with the conventional either, because that’s simply impractical. Someone has to wash dishes and someone has to staff the information desk, but it doesn’t have to be everyone. With over 2,500 students holding campus jobs and an undergraduate population of 5,260, we have a huge participation rate in the campus jobs program. We’re privileged to be members of an academic institution that can meet the financial commitments required to host this extensive of a program, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tweak it and make it even better.
Campus jobs are already being paid for by the University, so money wouldn’t come out of the professor’s pockets and departments would still maintain the same grants they get to hire fellows or interns. Rather, these opportunities would be a chance for a student to learn about the nature of a field and then contribute to the work being done.
We have assembled the most diverse pool of talented students and I refuse to believe that they provide the greatest benefit to our community in that capacity. I don’t even really believe that all these jobs should be research-oriented. Let’s pay musicians to make music, or pay writers to write, or pay activists to be more active. Students have passions, side hobbies, and aspirations — all activities that could become more feasible through University sponsorship.
When I say this, I mean that it’s easier for a student to be more politically involved if their job has a correlation to legislative research — perhaps as an intern for Princeton’s assemblyman. It’s easier for a graphic designer to hone their skills by working with companies in the Keller Center devising marketing material.
Campus jobs should be more productive uses of time than the conventional ones because our students have so much talent and so little time. It makes sense to use that time as productively as we can, not just for ourselves but for the development of a more robust community — one where students are placed in roles that best suit them rather than roles that best suit no one.
Jasman Singh is a first-year from East Windsor, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.