Undergraduate Research in Business



For a business major whose time in college is spent preparing for 100-hour work weeks, internships at a company may seem of paramount importance. However, there are other ways to gain the skills necessary for an intense professional life.

Universities are incubators for research, and through opportunities for undergraduate participation are typically for students in STEM fields, assistantships in cutting-edge business research are something students in the social sciences should explore.

Rahul Desai – student researcher at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business

Rahul Desai, a rising sophomore at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, has been working on a research project this summer while benefitting from a professor’s mentorship.

According to Desai, the research can be as hands on or hands off for a professor as he or she or the student wants. “This is my own personal research project that I convinced a professor to sign up to mentor me for,” he said. “There are students who sign on for a professor’s research project, but normally funding occurs when a student has a research idea in mind.”

To apply for research funding, students have to come up with their own timelines, set out all their deadlines in advance, and have a letter of support from a faculty mentor. Additionally, students should spell out what the purpose of their research is and what they hope to accomplish.

Desai is building a data analytics engine in order to predict whether a given startup will succeed or not. He said the research has actually evolved into his own startup, and he is working with Dr. Betsy Sigman, who advises students majoring in Operations and Information Management.

“Her expertise is in databases, so we decided, what can we do with startup data?” Desai said. “How can investors and entrepreneurs succeed more often than they do? So we’ve been aggregating data, and actually, we are approaching one million data points, spanning 5,000 companies. It’s a start.”

At the moment, he is collecting data from a variety of companies – some that have been acquired, some that have failed – and he said most of his days are consumed with just trying to find stuff. His data collection deadline is currently set for early July, after which he hopes to partner with a software company in Portland, Oregon, which runs machine learning predictive frameworks for data like his.

“It’s nice to have the resources of a great university like Georgetown. And that’s something that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t decided to do a research project. Now I can tap into the collective knowledge base of all the professors over the summer, get resources from the administrators, and anything else that I might need. While a student who hadn’t gotten the research funding or been accepted to the fellowship would probably not have the same amount of resources,” Desai said.

He also said that he had an internship in financial advisory last summer and appreciates being able to work on his own schedule now.

“With the research, I not only get funded, but I get to work on my own schedule, make my own milestone deadlines as I see fit, and adjust as I want to. And that makes a lot of sense, especially when you’re doing something that’s on the cutting edge. A lot of the researchers I’ve seen are doing things that really haven’t been done before, and the ability to be your own boss is really, really helpful, when you, say, run into a roadblock or a wall,” Desai said.

He also pointed out that research is hard and can often be a double-edged sword.

“While you try and discover something new, there’s always a chance that you won’t discover anything at all,” he said. “If I have success with my research though, it’s definitely going to flow into my startup, because my startup is actually a data analytics firm. Being able to harness the prediction engine that we’re trying to build would be amazing.”


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