Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (2023)

Read our companion article: Mercer’s high research activity results in national reclassification

Maison Clouatre has published four research papers, presented at conferences as far away as France, and is part of a team developing new traffic control algorithms for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) … and he’s only a junior at Mercer. An electrical engineering and math double-major, he joined the research lab of engineering professor Dr. Makhin Thitsa the first semester of his freshman year and has worked on a number of cutting-edge, advanced research projects since then.

Opportunities like this are not uncommon for undergraduate students at Mercer University. They are encouraged to get involved in research early, and not just as observers.

“A lot of schools work with undergraduates, but I think what really separates us here is the undergraduates are participating and leading research that is producing novel discoveries. That’s in all disciplines,” said Dr. Kevin Bucholtz, professor of chemistry and director of undergraduate research at Mercer.

Almost all departments in Mercer’s undergraduate colleges have research courses in their catalog, and some academic tracks like the engineering honors program require students to complete research projects. Students are also welcome to get involved in research outside of their class requirements.

More and more Mercer students are taking advantage of the opportunities at their fingertips. From the 2009-2010 academic year to 2019-2020, the number of undergraduates enrolled in research-based courses increased 162%, according to a report from Dr. Bucholtz. In 2019, 32% of Mercer’s graduating seniors had participated in at least one designated research course.

In addition, the number of students who presented their research at regional and national conferences increased 242% over the past decade.

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (1)
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Setting the standard

Many Mercer researchers don’t have access to graduate students, so they rely on the participation of undergraduates to help advance their research goals, Dr. Bucholtz said.

Physics professor Dr. Frank McNally has two to four students do data analysis with him each semester for the international IceCube Collaboration. Mercer is one of 53 institutions in 12 countries that make up the collaboration, which is measuring data from a detector buried deep in the ice in Antarctica. Last year, Mercer was awarded a $15,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.

“Research is a really collaborative exercise. It involves a lot of different skills,” he said. “Showing students what research really is and that they could do it in a meaningful way as undergraduates opens up a lot of potential doors for them.”

Each semester, at least one undergraduate student works in the lab of Dr. Kristen Ashley Horner, a pharmacology professor in the School of Medicine. She currently has eight students involved in a project to study neural pathways that contribute to meth addiction, which is funded by a $500,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (2)

Similarly, Dr. Thitsa, an electrical and computer engineering professor, normally mentors one or two students at a time in her research lab, but she currently has nine students helping with a GDOT-funded project to effectively control traffic and coordinate traffic signals at the new diverging diamond interchanges.

The projects they are working on are quite advanced, said Dr. Thitsa, who over the last five years has mentored three engineering students who have been awarded highly competitive Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s most prestigious STEM scholarship for undergraduate students. She collaborates with faculty from Georgia Tech and MIT, and her students go head-to-head with the Ph.D. and postdoctoral students on those teams.

“There’s something really special going on at Mercer. We recruit our very bright, talented undergraduate students, and they get to take leading roles in these projects,” she said. “When I have them onboard to work on my projects, I don’t treat them as undergraduate students. I have very high expectations of them, and they know that. I push their limits, and they push their own limits. We are putting the standard of research very high for the undergraduate students.”

Students who can do this level of quality research have endless opportunities, whether they go on to Ph.D. programs or into the industry, she said.

“It really sets students up for future success,” Dr. Horner said. “For a student interested in pursuing a career in research, it’s crucial for them to have that experience as an undergrad. For students going into medicine, it’s important to see what happens before you go to the clinic and the patient.”

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Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (3)

Fostering a love of science

Research opportunities ultimately led Clouatre, one of Dr. Thitsa’s Goldwater Scholars, to choose Mercer over other prestigious institutions to which he had been accepted. As a high school student, he was familiar with Dr. Thitsa’s work and contacted her, and she expressed a willingness to work with him if he came to the University.

“I knew that I wanted to be involved in this undergraduate research, and if I went to a larger school or one without Mercer’s reputation for including undergraduate students, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” he said. “Every single one of my peers who wants to be in a research lab is in one. While they must first express that interest to a faculty member, at Mercer there is always space for an interested student to be involved in the research of their choosing.”

Under the wing of Dr. Thitsa, Clouatre has tackled a number of unique research projects related to control theory, including work with high-power laser microscope systems, traffic control networks, quadrotor drones and autonomous cars. Clouatre said he wouldn’t be the researcher that he is without an adviser like Dr. Thitsa who welcomed and encouraged his ideas. His goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in engineering related to control theory.

“He is going to be somebody who is going to do great things,” Dr. Thitsa said. “He works extremely hard, and it’s such a joy to work with those students, because we feed off of each other’s energy. They say I motivate them and inspire them but, from my point of view, they inspire me.”

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (4)

Mercer’s BOMM program for sophomores, which combines biology, organic chemistry and mathematical modeling, gave Luke Jones a reason to be passionate about science and led to an incredible mentorship. Dr. Linda Hensel, professor and chair of the biology department, invited him to join her lab after he finished the BOMM and then to participate in the Mercer Undergraduate Biomedical Scholar (MUBS) summer program.

Jones has remained a part of Dr. Hensel’s research team, doing work that focuses on antibiotic resistance. Now a senior, he’s currently training students who will continue that work after he graduates. His research experiences led him to want to pursue a career in medical research, and he is in the process of applying to combined M.D./Ph.D. programs.

“Mercer has allowed me to get involved early in a project that I could continue for several years,” he said. “Mercer is really great at enabling students to get involved in projects and stay involved in projects that are going to be career-developing opportunities that you might not get at other institutions.”

Kayla Kelley, a senior chemistry major who plans to go to medical school, participated in the MUBS program the summer after her freshman year and loved the research experience so much that she asked to work in Dr. Horner’s lab. For Dr. Horner’s NIH project, Kelley has been looking specifically into the role that arc protein in the brain plays on addiction.

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“Having that exposure so early to clinical science, it really kind of fostered my love for science. What makes Mercer unique is there are specific opportunities where faculty want you to come and see what they do,” Kelley said. “The professors genuinely care about you and want you to know what’s going on and be open and honest about teaching.”

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (5)

Discovering passions

These early research experiences sometimes change the trajectory of students’ careers and open their eyes to new opportunities. Alumni Dr. Leslie Aldrich and Dr. Andrew Jones entered Mercer wanting to be doctors but decided to go in different directions.

Dr. Aldrich, a 2008 graduate in chemistry, worked with Dr. Alan Smith in the biology department to develop a procedure for the detection of tick-born illnesses during her sophomore year and contributed to an organic synthesis project with Dr. Bucholtz her junior and senior years.

“I was originally on the pre-med track, and these research experiences changed my mind, in a good way,” she said. “They gave me the opportunity to think about what I am passionate about and what’s most important to me. What I realized by doing undergraduate research is that basic science and research can help improve human health, and that’s what I felt like was more of my calling.”

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (6)

Dr. Aldrich went on to earn a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University and complete a postdoctoral fellowship with Harvard University and the Broad Institute. She fell in love with organic chemistry as a student at Mercer, and now she teaches it at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also runs a lab that studies a cellular process called autophagy.

“The faculty at Mercer create this delicate balance between this one-on-one mentorship and giving you challenging projects that allow you to work independently,” Dr. Aldrich said. “This really enabled me to learn how to deal with failure but also deal with complex problems that may not have an immediate answer. The way the professors would design projects and classes provided additional opportunities to hone your skills.”

Dr. Jones, who graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering, found his interest piqued by biological research after assisting on a project his sophomore year with Dr. Michael Horst in the School of Medicine.

After a Mercer On Mission trip to Mozambique, he completed a water treatment analysis project with chemistry professor Dr. Adam Kiefer. He also worked on a solar distillation unit to purify saltwater and a project related to the removal of fluoride from groundwater with Dr. Laura Lackey, now dean of the School of Engineering. These experiences led him to want to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical and biological engineering, which he earned at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“These research experiences are the reason I ended up where I am today,” said Dr. Jones, who is now an engineering professor at Miami University in Ohio and runs a metabolic engineering research lab. “I came into Mercer wanting to be a medical doctor. What I learned is that I have a passion for discovery. … I credit the one-on-one direct mentoring I received from several Mercer faculty members as a model for my current lab.”

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As he strives to impact the world outside of academia with his research, translating novel discoveries into technologies that directly improve human health, Dr. Jones said Mercer’s “Research That Reaches Out” mantra resonates with him. The tagline, coined in 2014, perfectly captures what has come to be known as a hallmark of the Mercer experience — the ability for all students to participate in high-impact research focused on real-world problems.

Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (7)
Undergraduate research opportunities set Mercer students apart and ahead for their futures (8)

Read more articles in the Spring 2021 edition of The Mercerian magazine.

Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
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Why you think participating in undergraduate research could be beneficial to your future career? ›

Exploring career and graduate education options

Undergraduate research and creative activity offer students opportunities to gain hands-on experience in fields of interest to them. This experience often prompts realizations about what kinds of work students enjoy most and what career paths they wish to pursue.

How do you choose undergraduate research? ›

Choose the right lab
  1. Learn to think like a scientist. ...
  2. Look for questions, not subjects. ...
  3. Mentoring is as important as research. ...
  4. Reach out with confidence. ...
  5. Start your research with reading, and keep on reading. ...
  6. Set specific goals for yourself and let your mentors know. ...
  7. Research takes time. ...
  8. Find a healthy balance.
Mar 15, 2019

Is Mercer University a research university? ›

Classified nationally as a doctoral research university with high research activity, Mercer University secures and expends more than $51 million annually to fuel discovery and innovation.

Is Mercer University prestigious? ›

Mercer is a highly rated private university located in Macon, Georgia. It is a small institution with an enrollment of 4,219 undergraduate students. Admissions is somewhat competitive as the Mercer acceptance rate is 78%. Popular majors include Nursing, Engineering, and Biology.

How does undergraduate research benefit you as a student? ›

Undergraduate research can help you: improve your communication skills. find opportunities to present and publish your ideas. test your determination and perseverance.

Why is research important for undergraduate students? ›

It increases the level of student excitement and engagement. It enhances critical thinking skills and stimulates a culture of intellectual curiosity. It is the most effective manner to create relevance between the world and the students' education. It boosts student confidence and professionalism.

How do you ace an undergraduate research interview? ›

Successful Interviews
  1. Arrive on time.
  2. Be prepared to present the best side of yourself–you do not need to necessarily dress-up, but make sure you look like you really want the position (i.e. Do not wear pajama pants to the interview!)
  3. Show your enthusiasm for the research opportunity.

What can I expect from undergraduate research? ›

Students come into the undergraduate research experience with a focus on the product or outcome of the project. They expect to learn research skills, methods, and techniques, but often focus on the final answer or product.

How do undergraduate students recruit for research? ›

To recruit participants for a research study, you have several options:
  1. Leverage your personal network.
  2. Reach out via online communities.
  3. Find research participants over social media.
  4. Get internal feedback.
  5. Curate a pool of enthusiastic customers.
  6. Conduct guerilla testing.
  7. Use tools that find test participants for you.
Oct 22, 2020

What is research that reaches out at Mercer? ›

Research that Reaches Out integrates service and research to equip students with the skills required to engage in sophisticated research aimed at solving real problems facing humankind. Two guiding goals drive this work: Goal 1 – Enhance student learning through service-focused research.

What is Mercer known for academically? ›

The most popular majors at Mercer University include: Health Professions and Related Programs; Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Engineering; Social Sciences; Education; Psychology; Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Communication, ...

What is Mercer research? ›

Undergraduate research at Mercer provides students with hands-on experience that complements the breadth of their education. At Mercer, students are given the opportunity to take the lead in top-level research endeavors, which transforms them into scholars who answer tough and relevant questions.

Is Mercer a dry campus? ›

Mercer observes a dry-campus rule, meaning that alcohol is not allowed on campus under any circumstances. The rule is very popular among private colleges and institutions located throughout the Midwest and southern United States.

What is the most elite university? ›

Harvard University

What is the best Ivy League school in the world? ›

For instance, in the Wall Street Journal rankings, Harvard is ranked the nation's top college overall, which means that it's also the highest-ranked Ivy League school. On the other hand, Yale is ranked fourth nationally, which is second highest among Ivy League schools.

How does research made an impact to students? ›

The literature demonstrates that students who participate in undergraduate research benefit in the following ways: Greater problem solving skills. Better understanding of research methods. Deeper understanding of the discipline.

Why is research such an important skill for university students? ›

Research skills allow you to find information and use it effectively. It includes creating a strategy to gather facts and reach conclusions so that you can answer a question.

What are the benefits of engaging in research? ›

Research improves services and treatments not just for you but also for future generations. It helps develop new tests for diagnosis, treatments and processes that could eventually help your children, or even your grandchildren. You may gain access to treatments that are not yet readily available to the general public.

How do you stand out in a research interview? ›

How to stand out in an interview
  1. Research the company. ...
  2. Plan to arrive early for your interview. ...
  3. Describe your strengths and weaknesses. ...
  4. Highlight your accomplishments. ...
  5. Provide examples of previous work. ...
  6. Pose unique questions. ...
  7. Restate your interest in the job and the company. ...
  8. Communication skills.
Nov 18, 2022

What should I wear to a research assistant interview? ›

While many of these interviews are relatively informal, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. When in doubt, opt for a 'business casual' look.

How would you describe your undergraduate research experience? ›

Provide the employer details about your role in the research project. Describe the research itself and results from the research. Specify the nature of the research, for example, if you collected data or conducted experiments. Remember to share if the research was published or other accomplishments.

Does undergraduate research look good on a resume? ›

Research experience is a valued activity in the educational experience and should be showcased on your resumé. This experience should be treated like any other experience, whether paid or unpaid, as it provides a snapshot of skills and knowledge you have gained.

What skills can you gain from research? ›

Creativity, judgment, communication, organization, and persistence are all equally important skills to make the leap from gaining knowledge from others' discoveries to making discoveries on your own.

What is the best way to recruit students? ›

6 Student Recruitment Strategies That Really Work
  1. Maintain a Compelling Digital Presence. Silverback Strategies released a 2021 report entitled, Higher Education Research: The Parent and Student Journey. ...
  2. Build a Campus Story that Sells (and Attracts Students) ...
  3. Create Community Partnerships.
Aug 19, 2022

What are my chances of getting into Mercer? ›

The acceptance rate at Mercer University is 73.3%.

For every 100 applicants, 73 are admitted. This means the school is lightly selective. The school will have their expected requirements for GPA and SAT/ACT scores. If you meet their requirements, you're almost certain to get an offer of admission.

Is Mercer Medical school Pass Fail? ›

Our institution will accept pass/fail grades and/or courses that were converted to online formats during the COVID-19 pandemic, including laboratory sections.

Is Mercer hard to get into? ›

Mercer University admissions is more selective with an acceptance rate of 75% and an early acceptance rate of 84.5%. Half the applicants admitted to Mercer University have an SAT score between 1220 and 1400 or an ACT score of 28 and 32.

What makes Mercer unique? ›

Great universities generate new discoveries that add to the world's body of knowledge. A Mercer distinctive is the interdisciplinary nature of research that promotes collaboration across schools and colleges. This kind of integrative research is critical to solving the world's most pressing challenges.

What is the average GPA for Mercer? ›

Average GPA: 3.86

The average GPA at Mercer University is 3.86. This makes Mercer University Extremely Competitive for GPAs. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 3.86, Mercer University requires you to be near the top of your class, and well above average.

Is Mercer University conservative or liberal? ›

Mercer University is located in Macon, Georgia; a historical Southern town. The school is Baptist-affiliated and is very conservative.

What is Mercer model? ›

Mercer's model for effective employee engagement includes giving employees the opportunity to preform and recognizing them for it, cultivating positive relationships and being treated fairly. , We sum this up into three aspects employees seek--achievement, camaraderie and equity—that comprise the Three Factor Model.

What is Mercer insight? ›

MercerInsight®, an alliance with eVestment, is a powerful digital platform designed to help sophisticated investors make better-informed decisions. It offers Mercer's forward-looking manager ratings and research along with data and analytics on a wide range of asset classes.

What does a Mercer deal in? ›

Mercer is a global consulting leader in talent, health, retirement, and investments. Mercer helps clients around the world advance the health, wealth, and performance of their most vital asset – their people.

How will research benefit you in the future? ›

Research improves services and treatments not just for you but also for future generations. It helps develop new tests for diagnosis, treatments and processes that could eventually help your children, or even your grandchildren. You may gain access to treatments that are not yet readily available to the general public.

Why do we study research and how important it is as future teachers? ›

Since doing a research study enhances and improves teachers' teaching practices (Borg, 2014; Ulla, 2016), widens teachers' understanding of their students' learning needs (Burns, 2010; Hong & Lawrence, 2011), and advances their professional experiences (Grima-Farrell, 2017; Vogrinc & Zuljan, 2009; West, 2011), improved ...

What are the 5 benefits of research? ›

Benefits of Research
  • Working with a faculty mentor.
  • Learning about issues, methods, and leaders in your chosen field.
  • Applying concepts from your courses to “real life” situations.
  • Furthering your creative achievement.
  • Sharpening your problem-solving skills.

What is the purpose of future researchers? ›

The role of the human researcher in the future will most likely be to clarify the importance research has to society and in terms of shared human projects – also in disciplines where the connection of research to topics relevant to human society has so far appeared to be minimal.

What is future outcomes in research? ›

The Prediction of Future Outcomes. Forecasting is contingent upon predictability, where a result is expected to be consistently observed, and uncertainty, which is the level of potential deviation from expected results.

What are the benefits of conducting research for your future development as teachers? ›

Research can: help you find solutions to particular problems arising in your classroom or school. underpin professional learning of knowledge, skills and understanding. connect you with sources of information and networks of professional support.

What is the main purpose of research in education? ›

“Educational research is that activity which is directed towards development of a science of behaviour in educational situations. The ultimate aim of such a science is to provide knowledge that will permit the educator to achieve his goals by the most effective methods.” 6.

What good things can research give the people who works in the engineering? ›

When tasked with finding a solution to a problem, research helps identify, assess, and collate all the technical information that one can find. This can be used to break down concepts into main ideas and then apply strategies and techniques that one may have learned to create workable solutions.


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