A Summer Undergraduate Research Retrospective
The Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) offered 31 awards for independent research and research assistantships with Harvard faculty to undergraduate concentrators in Chemistry, Environmental Science and Engineering, Computer Science, English, Religion, Social Studies, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Government, Physics, Integrative Biology, Applied Mathematics, Economics, and Environmental Science and Public Policy. Students focused their research on a variety of topics, all aimed at finding solutions to the many dimensions of climate change.
After two years of remote research because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer saw the return of in-person work. Students and faculty alike were thrilled to get back to this mode of conducting research. Meaningful connections were made, and in some cases, students continued working with their advisors into the academic year. This funding has long provided undergraduates with an opportunity to start their thesis research, and this summer was no different.
The program supports two types of projects: independent research and research assistantships. When students apply for funding for independent research, they propose a topic and outline their research plans and goals. For students interested in research assistantships, they select their top choices from a list of opportunities provided by Harvard faculty and share their interests in the project. We spoke with grant recipients from the latter category about their experiences.
Carlie McGrath Tydings, an integrative biology concentrator with a secondary in economics, felt “extremely lucky” to work with A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy & Economic Development Robert Stavins on “Costs of Distributed and Centralized Solar Energy Production in Mexico City.” The project, categorized as a research assistantship, was of both academic and personal interest to Carlie, as it “allowed [her] to do a deep dive into a topic [she’s] passionate about: the clean energy transition in [her] home country, Mexico.” Carlie shared with us that the funding allowed her to make connections with an array of people working in the energy sector in both Mexico and the U.S. These opportunities to network are one of many beneficial outcomes we hope for when providing awards to our grant recipients. As a junior, Carlie is thinking about what lies ahead after graduation, and she feels as though this past summer set her up for future success in a career related to climate policy and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Sameer Das, a physics concentrator and junior at Harvard College, worked with Eli Tziperman, Pamela and Vasco McCoy, Jr. Professor of Oceanography and Applied Physics. Interested in applying his background in physics, math, and computer science to environmental issues, Sameer’s top choice for a summer research assistantship was Professor Tziperman’s project, “Climate Dynamics.” He shared with us that, in addition to all he learned about oceanography, he was “exposed to adjacent disciplines during [his] summer research, such as data visualization, wind dynamics, and work with remote supercomputer servers.” This invaluable edification, paired with the “passionate students and faculty [he] was surrounded by on a daily basis,” allowed Sameer to return to campus excited, motivated, and ready to accomplish his goal of finding solutions to our most pressing environmental issues.
We highly encourage students interested in applying to the program in the future to visit our website. There, you can learn more about the program and projects conducted by previous grant recipients. HUCE gratefully acknowledges the late Bertram Cohn and his family for their generous support of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund, which allows the Center to provide these extraordinary opportunities for our undergraduate students.