FAQ: Research Assistantships with Sewanee faculty
I would like to work with a professor on an academic project this summer. How can I apply to do that?
Approach a professor that you are interested in working with and ask them about their research. If their research interests you, ask if they might consider having a research assistant during the summer. If so, work out the details with them, including tasks, responsibilities, number of weeks, and dates. If funding is needed, apply for research assistantship funding on the Career & Leadership Development website.
Why was the name changed from “internships” to “research assistantships”?
All academic research opportunities involving Sewanee faculty have been renamed "research assistantships" (RAs) instead of "internships," in order to clearly distinguish between academic research-oriented experiences mentored by our faculty (RAs) and more general career-related experiences (internships.) The term “research assistantship” is understood to apply to all research or creative activity in all modes of inquiry in the sciences, arts, humanities, and social sciences.
I want to be a research assistant on campus but I don’t know who I want to work with. Where should I look?
Begin by considering what kind of research interests you. Many professors display their scholarly work— posters, publications, book covers, artwork, etc—near their offices. You might also look at departmental websites to learn more about the work going on. The next step is to talk with a professor in that department about research broadly and inquire about possible opportunities. The Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and the office’s website (research.sewanee.edu) can also often provide information about work going on across the campus. Finally, check TigerNet. Some professors post their research assistantships there and you can apply for them directly on TigerNet; most have application deadlines on Feb. 15.
What if my research assistantship is unpaid?
Ask your RA faculty sponsor for a letter or email of confirmation, confirming that you have been offered your unpaid RA. Please ask them to include 1) the department name; 2) the faculty sponsor’s name, address, phone number and email address; 3) the number of weeks for the RA; and, 4) a brief description of the RA's responsibilities. You will need this letter/email in order to apply for funding. Alternatively, you may provide your faculty advisor with the link to the online Confirmation Form for Internships/Research Assistantships. The form is submitted directly to Career & Leadership Development.
* Without a confirmation letter/email/form, it is highly likely that your application will not be given full consideration and it will be waitlisted.
Apply for RA funding on the Career & Leadership Development website.
Write the 2-page funding proposal, with input from your faculty sponsor as to your responsibilities and anticipated outcomes of the research. Please note that this proposal will be read by a general audience and as such should not be overly technical. It should outline the significance of the project, the timeline of the work needed to be completed, your qualifications for carrying out the project and the expected outcomes both tangible (e.g., a paper) and intangible (e.g., your educational development or career preparation).
You will be notified whether or not they received funding within 2 weeks of the deadline. If you receive funding, the student is responsible for submitting a final report and an evaluation of your work as an RA by your faculty sponsor to Career & Leadership Development/CLD (and your faculty sponsor, if they request that you do so.)
What are the rules and qualifications for the funding?
Generally, funding is intended to support full engagement in the scholarly work for a period of 6-8 weeks. Research assistants are paid a stipend of $375 per week, with the expectation that they will work full time (32-40 hours per week) on the project. Typically, this expectation means that the research assistant will not have other jobs. That said, the precise arrangements are somewhat flexible and can be negotiated with the faculty sponsor. The qualifications are first and foremost determined by the professor that is sponsoring the work. It is very important to note that there are limited University funds available to support student research assistants. Factors considered include the quality of the proposal and the general qualifications of the student application.
What research assistant projects tend to be funded? Do you have any tips for writing a competitive proposal?
It is critical to realize that as more students and faculty engage in collaborative scholarship, the pressure on the available funds has become significant, meaning that the proposal review process is increasingly competitive. Recognizing that judging projects from a wide range of disciplines is intrinsically difficult, the various review committees look at the student’s prior academic record (readiness to carry out scholarly work), the aims of the project, the appropriateness of the project timeline and the likely outcomes of the work. This last category includes both the tangible products (i.e. presentations, papers, works of art, etc) and the intangible products (e.g. student intellectual growth or career preparation).
A strong proposal will convince the reviewing committee that the work is important, that the plan of work is feasible and will accomplish the goals set forth, and that the student is fully qualified to carry out the work. If you need further guidance about the eligibility of a project for funding or how best to frame the proposal, please contact the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research directly to discuss your ideas.
Please submit a well-written and carefully-edited 2-page proposal (12-pt, double-spaced text, normal margins). Include your name and page number in the upper right corner (header) of every page. If necessary, the proposal can be up to 3 pages. The proposal should contain the following sections:
1) Introduction: The introduction should provide a clear but concise overview of the current state of knowledge in the area of investigation. This should include recent literature results as well as preliminary data/information you may have already generated. Introduce the specific questions/hypotheses you will address and show why they are important.
2) Statement of objectives: The statement of objectives should provide a detailed list of the major goals you will achieve. It should clearly show what will be learned via the study to be undertaken. It may include a restatement and expansion of the questions to be tested; for example, it may be useful to split an overarching question asked in the introduction into smaller questions that will be specifically tested/answered.
3) Plan of work: The plan of work should provide enough detail in non-technical language to convince the proposal reviewers that the questions can and will be answered through the proposed study. It may be appropriate to include details about specific experiments that will be done or texts that will be consulted. In both cases, a strong proposal will anticipate the outcomes of a line of inquiry and offer alternative approaches in cases where the problems are anticipated. This section of the proposal should also include a realistic timeline for the project that convinces the reviewers that the project is feasible in the time available.
4) A statement of impact: The statement of impact should address both the intrinsic intellectual merit of the project and its broader impacts. The intellectual merit can be demonstrated via answers to the following questions: How does the proposed activity advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts? In stating the broader impacts the applicant should consider the following questions: What are the expected products of the proposed work (presentations, publications, etc.)? What is the educational benefit of the proposed work to the applicant? How will the proposed work advance the applicant’s career development?
Can I apply for funding after I graduate in May?
It is not currently forbidden for a graduating senior to apply for such funding; however, such students will almost universally receive a lower priority for funding than continuing students in a competitive funding process. Additionally, support beyond 2-4 weeks is fairly unlikely given current availability of funds.
Questions about the appropriateness of the request might be discussed with the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research or the individual charged with administering a given fund.
Can I take a summer school course at Sewanee in addition to having a research assistantship?