May 22, 2014

Students Present at the First Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellows Symposium

Each year, three SFS freshmen are selected for a unique, four-year research program sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies and the School of Foreign Service (SFS).

The Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellows (MURF) work as research assistants and potential co-authors with faculty mentors with similar interests, and they also develop research projects of their own.

In spring 2014, fellows presented their research on topics ranging from Middle Eastern refugees to European Union foreign aid to Senegalese fisherwomen at the first annual MURF Symposium. 

A New Undergraduate Research Experience

Kathleen McNamara, director of the Mortara Center, says that "since the founding of the center in 2003, we’ve built an infrastructure for strong research and scholarship in international studies. At first, this portfolio principally served our faculty and graduate students, and we realized we wanted space for undergraduate development as well.” 

The MURF program was launched in spring 2012 as an academic and professional development experience for undergraduate students who wish to hone their research skills and eventually pursue independent research.

Professors nominate standout students from their proseminars for the fellowship, and nominees then complete application materials. Since only three students are admitted per year, the application process is highly competitive.

“All of the applicants are talented, so we look for those with genuine interest in pursuing research throughout their Georgetown careers. We also examine the research proposal in their application, and see who can write a well-structured and probing research question,” McNamara elaborates.

Once selected, each student is matched with a faculty mentor with complimentary research interests who will oversee their research development. In many cases, that relationship will last throughout an undergraduate career, though students may switch mentors as their interests change.

In the beginning, faculty mentors focus on teaching key research skills as they direct students in standard tasks as research assistants. After building core knowledge in the research process, the focus shifts towards each student’s unique research interests and how best to structure their questions and research approach.

A Student Research Community

“The MURF program is unique not only because of its four-year duration, but also because students become part of the larger academic community here at the center,” says Mortara Program Coordinator Halley Lisuk, who has worked with Mortara Assistant Director Moira Todd to implement the program.

For three hours each week the students have dedicated space at the center to work together. This weekly “scriptorium” is unstructured time to build natural peer collaboration and camaraderie. Students report that a shared sense of community is an important part of the program. They are able to learn from, and brainstorm with, one another, much like the academic collaboration process of faculty members.

“What we see happening is the formation of a cohort of ambassadors to the wider Georgetown student body about the importance of intellectual life and academic inquiry,” says McNamara.

Read more about the student presentations at the first MURF Symposium and MURF program details on the Mortara website.