STUDENTS SEEKING MORE THAN THE TYPICAL UNDERGRAD EXPERIENCE
According to business school professors, the search for a more meaningful learning experience tends to be the common trait shared by undergrad students who participate in collaborative research opportunities with professors.
“Like many other top business schools, our undergraduate students are very high IQ, very quantitatively advanced, and are often seeking intellectual opportunities that go beyond traditional coursework,” says Sundararajan who has been involved in SPUR since its creation six years ago. “Having an undergraduate research program fills that need to an extent.”
“The vast majority do not go on to become full-time researchers. They’re not here for that,” Sundararajan continues. “They go to Wall Street or consulting or something like that. But they pick up skills that are valuable for whatever career they go into.”
Michael Pagano echoes Sundararajan’s observations. He is a finance professor at Villanova University’s School of Business, and oversees the school’s FiRST program. FiRST stands for Financial Research Scholars Training and is a credit-earning and paid research assistant role where participating undergrads are paired with a finance professor for two to three years.
“We noticed that we were attracting high-caliber students who were looking for more than the typical undergraduate experience. At the same time, our finance professors were looking for extra help in terms of research assistants because there was a limited supply of graduate students who could help in this regard,” Pagano says. “With FiRST, we are focused on first and second year students so that they can be able to gain more experience beyond the classroom experience by becoming a Finance Research Associate in their subsequent years at Villanova. So, we attract highly motivated students that are intellectually curious, many of who are honors students or presidential scholars.”
PAID TO DO RESEARCH? YES, THAT’S AN OPTION
Such motivation is seen in Melissa Kostecki, a Villanova senior who has been in the FiRST program doing academic research alongside finance professor, Tina Yang, since freshman year.
Majoring in management information systems and business analytics with a minor in Spanish, Kostecki says her desire to expand her knowledge beyond her major is what attracted her to FiRST. That, mixed with a pure thirst for knowledge. “Finance is central to any business you work in so I figured it might be a good idea to get exposure in it through this one-credit course,” she says. “I also did it because I was very eager to learn and research sounded very exciting and I wanted to stay on top of current topics.”
While maintaining her studies — and even at one point, balancing an internship in between it all — Kostecki’s research centers on corporate governance.
“We had a few disparate topics we wanted to look into. For instance CEO pay and CFO pay given a company’s enterprise risk management policy” Kostecki says. “We also looked into the success of mergers and acquisitions given corporate governance policies. We’ve analyzed companies before and after the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. A lot of my initial work was just gathering massive amounts of data from different sources and from other research articles that have been published so we know what’s already out there. This year is the final year and everything has come together. We found our research question and we’ve been able to do statistical analysis on all the data we’ve compiled the past four years. We’ve found statistically significant outcomes with what our hypothesis is and, ultimately, pitching a final article to a scholarly journals is the goal.”
After earning course credit in the initial semester, Kostecki has consistently accepted the invitation to continue researching with Yang each following semester. This means instead of being compensated by transcript credentials, she now earns a $1,000 semester stipend for 100 hours of work she puts toward the ongoing study.
STUDENTS AND FACULTY TALK RESEARCH VIA PODCAST
Another way Villanova uses academic research to bridge the divide between faculty and students is through a podcast. A two-year old show called “Inspiring Minds” puts students in a one-on-one dialogue with professors doing research in their fields of interest.
In the most recent episode, senior student Shayla Frederick served as the featured interviewer. A marketing major and peace and justice minor, she formulated her own questions and sat down with one of the business school’s standout management professors, Quinetta Roberson, about the prof’s diversity and inclusion research.
“As a minor in peace and justice, I knew it would work well with Quinetta’s article on diversity and inclusion,” Frederick explains. “It’s a mix of business combined with my utmost passion which is peace and justice.”
The program airs once a month and is a open to all in the business school. “For most schools, it’s all about faculty and the research,” says Cathy Toner, communications director for the school. “But we thought, how can we get students involved?”
Whether it’s being listed as a co-researcher in an academic journal article as Kostecki will be when Yang’s research ultimately gets published, or impacting real-time public policy issues as Edelson will soon be able to affirm, there are manifold benefits student can reap from partnering with professors for research purposes.
Of course, there’s the chance to add to one’s resume and update their LinkedIn profiles which is critical for students getting set to enter into the job market. However, students reveal some of the less expected perks.
Kostecki says, “In my research, I haven’t uncovered some mystery no one’s known about, but there are definitely things I’m reading about and seeing in the news that I understand. I’m not as bewildered. For example, we did research on company buybacks and stock repurchases. When companies do it, there’s a lot of speculation on the real reason behind it. Once, when I was reading about a company massively repurchasing their stock, I was able to understand it better.”
Another surprise for Kostecki was how her involvement in academic research prepared her internship opportunities.
“For my first internship after sophomore year, I’d been researching for a year and a half,” Kostecki says. “My superiors were kind of surprised by how not nervous I was with a lot of work. Also, the attention to detail helped me as well as soft skills like knowing how to ask for re-explaining if I don’t understand something and knowing how to handle mistakes. This has really helped me in my internships and put me ahead of others in a lot of ways.”
For Edelson, it goes beyond resume building — though he emphatically says, “I’m definitely putting this on there.”
While an obvious benefit is for students to have their names associated with superstar faculty who are trailblazers in their fields, Edelson says, “I think the value of research should be taken into consideration when students are considering college options or even thinking about what they want to do for themselves as current undergrads.
“When deciding what college to attend, people want to say their professors are groundbreakers in their field. It’s a part of the decision-making process in that sense but, unfortunately, it’s not as big of the decision-making process as it should be. Incoming students don’t appreciate it as much as they should and it should be a selling point for universities. Later in life is when we understand these opportunities are invaluable.”