Pro tip: Use PRO

For students who want to do research at Rochester, Pathways to Research Opportunities (PRO) is a must.
Author: Cook, Matthew
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A human-looking figure at peering into the opening of a labyrinth

Being a Research 1 university—a classification for higher education institutions engaged in the highest levels of research—is among the University of Rochester’s pride points. It’s also a University trait that draws experts to teach here and students to learn here.

For students, Rochester’s R1 status is a billboard on the collegiate highway that reads, “Explore research here. Use Wilson Blvd Exit.” And they do. They come to Rochester, ready to get in the lab, only to discover they have no idea how to get there. About five years ago, Susan Cardinal, a STEM librarian at the River Campus Libraries (RCL), noticed students were idled by not knowing how, or in what direction, to take their first step.

“[Students] are told to talk to faculty, but aren’t sure of what is the best, most effective way to do that,” Cardinal says.

To help students continue their academic journeys, Cardinal created a program that allows them to refine, explore, and express their research interests. Today, it’s known as Pathways to Research Opportunities (PRO). Often working with the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Greene Center for Career Education & Connections, and other partners, PRO offers a series of events, workshops, and online learning segments. Stephanie Barrett, a social science librarian at the RCL and current overseer of PRO, describes the program as “a one-stop-shop for getting involved in research at the University of Rochester.” That may be an understatement. One could make an argument that it’s an essential starting point for any undergraduate student considering research.

“A lot of students don’t have any research experience,” Barrett says. “So, how do you apply for a research position when you don’t have a research resume? We show students how to talk about their skills and appeal to a professor’s needs.”

In addition to resume building, PRO walks students through making their initial contact with a faculty member, cultivating a network, and other steps that lead them to land a research position. The only way PRO could be more aptly named is if it was called “Pathways to Research Opportunities and the Skill- and Relationship-Building to Land Those Opportunities and Excel in Them.” Of course, then the acronym would be “PROSRBLTOET,” and no one's pronouncing that.   

There are a few other current, past, and future features of PRO to know about.

CURRENT: Events

Most of the skill-building sessions that PRO offers occur during workshops that are held each semester. Quick point of fact: all PRO workshops are events, but not all events are workshops. Some events serve an introductory purpose, helping students get their bearing in the world of research at Rochester. Here are a few examples of events held earlier this semester:

Deep Dive into Rochester Research

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Man looking at a wall covered in pinned-up papers

A masterclass in research discovery. Rochester librarians showed students how to use databases and less formal venues for finding research published by Rochester faculty members. They also demonstrated how to conduct discipline-specific searches. Overall, the workshop’s purpose was to give attendees the knowledge and skills to identify where their interests align with the work of current faculty members and help them continue to build their academic network.

Undergraduate Research during COVID-19

This was an example of one of PRO’s non-workshop events. Barrett built it around the expectation that students would still be interested in research, but they may be unsure how opportunities would be affected by the pandemic. The program addressed COVID-19, but it also allowed attendees to hear from fellow Rochester students.  

“Just the concept of doing research makes some students nervous,” Barrett says. “Hearing other students talk about their research failures and that it’s not always smooth sailing can make their own experience less scary. They don’t have to feel bad about being turned down. It’s normal.”

Your Story, Your Resume

Remember Stephanie Barrett’s comments about building a resume without having actual experience? Your Story, Your Resume is the workshop that helped students do that. It highlighted the classic resume mistake of merely listing general experiences and expecting the reader to connect the dots. Career Advisor Jonathan Bratt from the Greene Center led students through a series of exercises to help them tell their story through their resume.

PAST: Podcast

Every student’s path to research is unique. That’s essentially the premise of the PRO podcast Stories@UR, hosted by Odessa Amaryllis ʼ24. In the four episodes that constitute Season 1, Amaryllis talks to students about their research experiences. You can stream each episode on the Stories page of the PRO website. If you’re wondering when Season 2 drops, don’t expect anything before spring 2021. The podcast went on indefinite hiatus when—GIFT OPPORTUNITY ALERT—it ran out of funds.

“One of the main takeaways is that a lot of students don’t always get research positions in their designed major,” says Amaryllis of the recorded episodes. You can find an example of this in Episode 2, where Amaryllis talks to an anthropology major from the Class of 2021 named Ruki.

FUTURE: Tutorials

Technically, this is a current and future feature of PRO. Right now, there’s a tutorial for “Where to start.” But that’s it. Barrett explains that the pandemic derailed plans to develop this section further. Additional tutorials on “Networking” and “Communicating Your Interests” are coming soon.  

“We understand that there might be students who are interested in some of our in-person events but don’t have the time,” Barrett says. “This a way to meet them where they are. Or they might think, ‘How do I do that again?’ And then they can find it here.” ∎

For more information on Pathways to Research Opportunities, contact Stephanie Barrett at sbarrett@library.rochester.edu. If you’re interested in providing support for Stories@UR, please contact Pamela Jackson at pamela.jackson@rochester.eduEnjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.