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Collaborators and Colleagues

Faculty-student partnerships generate new avenues of research

Close faculty student interaction is a hallmark of the Dartmouth experience, as are individual student research projects conducted under faculty guidance. But some student projects move beyond that level, becoming an integral part of a faculty member's own research program.

Soo Young Park and Alejandro Martinez '07
Soo Young Park, assistant professor of studio art, with Alejandro Martinez '07 and his work at the Senior Majors Exhibition. Park advised Martinez on his senior thesis, which focused on photographs as both images and three-dimensional objects. (Photo by Kawakahi Kaeo Amina '09

For Dartmouth's teacher-scholars, the College's size, and its emphasis on undergraduate education, creates the possibility of working with undergraduates as collaborators, and even colleagues, to the benefit of both student and teacher.

Overlapping interests
Think about a collaboration between an art professor and a student, and the first image that comes to mind might be an Old Master's atelier, with apprenticed assistants contributing preparatory work to the master's pieces. That's not at all the dynamic at work between Assistant Professor of Studio Art Soo Young Park and her senior thesis advisee Alejandro Martinez '07, whose work was supported in part by the Paul K. Richter and Evelyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund.

"Alejandro came to work with me at the suggestion of his photography professor, Brian Miller, when Alejandro was looking to start working with photographs not just as images, but as objects," Park says. "I'm not a photographer, but I'm familiar with that transition from two dimensions to three, from my own shift to training as a painter to my current work in sculpture." Part of the teacher's role, Park says, is to be a student artist's first audience. "In critique, I'll say what I'm seeing; if that's not what the student is after, then it's a signal to go back and keep working."

It has been particularly engaging advising Alejandro's work, Park says. Despite their different approaches, they have overlapping interests and experiences: both being interested in memory, for example, and both arriving in the United States as immigrants. And while the small pieces Alejandro is showing as his senior project couldn't be more different in size from Park's room-filling installations, both student and teacher rely on scale to connect with their audiences: drawing the viewer in close in one case, and into the artwork itself in the other.

Truth in advertising
Michael Murov '07's senior thesis, based on a collaborative study of "The Effects of Disclosure Statements in Candidate and 527 Group Advertisements" with Assistant Professor of Government Deborah Brooks, began in a seminar Brooks taught. With the help of the Jones Media Center, seminar students create ads for a hypothetical election that is contested during the course. Brooks recalls her students balking at giving up even the few seconds that the ads' mandatory disclaimers required, and wondering whether the disclaimers worked. Brooks's reply: no one knows. "I remember mentioning that finding out could make a good thesis," she says. When the time came to start on his senior project, Michael returned to Brooks, the question from the seminar still on his mind.

Brooks expresses gratitude for the funding Murov's thesis received from the Office of Undergraduate Research, as well as special government department support from the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation Program in Law and Politics. "The combination of those grants," she notes, "was a major part of what made it possible to conduct our research as a formal, controlled experiment, by affording us access to a national, online survey." Brooks is confident that their results are publishable. "This project was good for everybody," she says.

Research as team sport
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Fellowship Program brings student scientists into the labs of faculty researchers. For Dean Wilcox, professor of chemistry, the arrival of HHMI fellow Paul Magyar '09 was a case of perfect timing. "To understand both the toxic effects of arsenic and its surprising beneficial role in treating certain cancers, there is a need to identify proteins in cells that bind arsenic," Wilcox says. "I had the idea to pass the contents of cells through a porous matrix with immobilized arsenic and thereby fish out the arsenic-loving proteins. Paul's inquiry about an HHMI research project in my lab coincided with this idea." Wilcox recalls, "Paul thought that pursuing that project would involve some exciting applications of his interest and background in chemistry."

"In our field," Professor of Biological Sciences Mary Lou Guerinot notes, "we're working as a team, side by side in a lab; it's a given that each member of the team, the undergraduates included, contributes to the work being done. Carla Williams '09, our current HHMI student, is contributing to the overall lab goal of figuring out how plants take up essential metal nutrients like iron by studying particular genes that she has determined are involved in metal homeostasis and heavy metal tolerance."

It can be challenging to coordinate the quickly passing sessions of Dartmouth's academic calendar and the long-term projects of a working research lab, but Guerinot aims to balance her undergraduates' involvement in ongoing research with participation in other, more self-contained projects. Students find ways to stay connected as well; Williams will be continuing her association with the lab as a Presidential Scholar next year.

By KELLY SEAMAN

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Last Updated: 5/30/08