Office of Undergraduate Research Introduces New Initiatives


Madison Olsen

The Office of Undergraduate Research highlights labs on campus through its TikTok series called Lab Brag.

The Oberlin Office of Undergraduate Research is developing three new initiatives designed to highlight the work of student researchers: Student Spotlight, Mentor Minute, and Lab Brag. All of these initiatives will give both student researchers and their mentors new avenues to share their research — opportunities which have been limited during the pandemic given the dearth of in-person events.

Student Spotlight and Mentor Minute give students and mentors a chance to speak about their experiences in bite-size video clips that will be posted on TikTok. Lab Brag gives a chance for the lab as a whole to reveal its unique character and personality, also in short video clips. 

“Many of the labs have distinctive personalities, and we really want students to be able to say ‘Oh, I really want to be a part of that lab,’” said OUR Research Fellow Charlotte Babarinsa, OC ’20. 

Pandemic restrictions in the past year have heavily affected much of OUR’s operations. Human-subject research that normally takes place on campus is not currently possible, and many of the ways that student researchers have to share their topics with the broader student community are now virtual.  

The fact that students are both on and off campus, compounding limited access to research labs, has made it harder for student researchers to gain the same kind of student audience they would have normally.

“Usually, we have in-person Research Symposiums where people can present, as well as poster presentations where people can interact directly with researchers,” Babarinsa said. “We also have other events where students can come around and visit each lab in person, but unfortunately, we are not able to do that because of the pandemic. We wanted to have [these initiatives] so students can see what research is being done and who these researchers are.”

Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research Dr. Leslie Kwakye, OC ’06, saw the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with new platforms, like TikTok, that could help student research reach wider audiences. 

“The main reason why [we decided to introduce these new initiatives] is because there is a ton of research going on on-campus, but it’s often in its own little segment … and it’s rare for students to see the full picture of what is going on,” Kwakye said. “Having these initiatives gives the opportunity for people both on campus and off campus to see this research, and that’s really rewarding.”

For College first-year Tsitsi Zana, these new initiatives help dispel some of the misconceptions students have about what it means to engage in undergraduate research.  

“I feel that research scares away people because it’s almost always associated with STEM, and [people] don’t realize that research can exist in a number of categories outside of STEM,” Zana said. “These new initiatives can help in cultivating students’ desires to research in other disciplines. It’s inspiring for them.”

Zana also emphasized that while pursuing research opportunities at Oberlin may seem overwhelming from the outside looking in, it’s important for students to remember that there is a network designed to help students transform ideas into fully-fledged projects.  

“The first step is simply to reach out to a professor or a TA, and if you need further guidance, you also have the option of requesting a research mentor,” Zana said. “You can contact the OUR directly, and they can provide you with a mentor to take you through the steps.”

The OUR will be hosting its Undergraduate Research Symposium virtually April 29–30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.