Students who engage in research develop crucial skills, including unstructured problem-solving, independent planning, quantitative and qualitative reasoning, and more. At Amherst, students learn these skills by working collaboratively with faculty and with each other, often on small teams, forming vital relationships.
How will you learn research skills at Amherst? By doing hands-on work in close collaboration with faculty and with other students, either one-on-one or in small teams. Opportunities to engage in research begin during the first year and often culminate in an honors thesis during the student’s final year. Students receive funding to perform their work and, in many cases, to travel to research sites around the world.
A lot of the times when I’m meeting with my professor, we don’t know what the next step is. We’re working together to ask, ‘Alright, what’s been done before? And what can we do now?’ So it’s cutting-edge thinking … it’s learning how to ask the next questions that nobody’s really asked before, instead of learning from a syllabus.” — Eric Jung ’21, biology major
The number of rising sophomores and juniors who participated in science research over the summer of 2020 with faculty across 12 different academic fields, in the SURF summer science program.
The number of students who received funding through the Academic Internships program to conduct research during the summer of 2020. Another 100 students will receive funding each semester during the academic year.
In 2020, 77 seniors in 29 fields conducted research toward a senior thesis under the guidance of a faculty member, with the support of the College.
Amherst spent $1,500,985 to fund student-faculty research in 2020.
Amherst offers a broad arrayof research programs across STEM fields, social sciences and the humanities. Browse our many opportunities below.
The Summer Science Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program provides opportunities for Amherst College students to immerse themselves in hands-on, collaborative science research projects over the summer.
Research fellows work closely with their faculty mentors to design and execute their research projects, and all fellows take part in group educational and social activities. In early fall, fellows present their findings at Amherst’s annual poster session and are encouraged to present their work at a regional or national conference. In the summer of 2020, 73 rising sophomores and juniors participated in science research with faculty members in the fields of astronomy, biochemistry, biology, biophysics, chemistry, computer science, geology, math, statistics, neurobiology, physics and psychology.
The Schupf Fellows Program, beginning in 2021, will support cohorts of 20 or more students with stipends for one or two summers of intensive research in the arts, humanities or social sciences. Students will be selected in a competitive process and can work on an original project, work with a faculty member on their existing research, or conduct collaborative research with a group of students and a faculty member. Faculty members will provide mentoring, and students will also participate in programming designed to help them bond and progress on their academic, professional and personal paths. Students will present their work to the campus community following the summer research, and may participate in undergraduate research conferences hosted at Amherst, organized and led by the fellows.
Research Tutorials in the Humanities and “Humanistic” Social Sciences allow sophomores and juniors to engage in substantive research with faculty, while studying in tutorials of no more than six students. Tutorials are led by Austin Sarat (left), professor of jurisprudence and political science, on America’s death penalty as a researchable subject; Edward Melillo, professor of history and environmental studies, on Pacific Islanders in the 19th century; and Jeffers Engelhardt, professor of music, on the sonic and social dynamics of people singing together.
By exploring how different scholars approach a topic, students in research tutorials learn to frame a research question, develop research strategies, and identify and use sources. Students pursue a research topic that dovetails closely with the professor’s scholarly interests and are guaranteed funding for six weeks to continue this work during the summer following the academic year in which they take the course.
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program addresses the problem of Black and brown underrepresentation among college and university faculty by funding and mentoring selected undergraduates’ research on their way to careers in academia. MMUF alums go on to diversify institutions of higher education—not only with their presence but also by contributing to scholarship in which underrepresented voices have been historically silenced.
The Gregory S. Call Undergraduate Research Program provides funding for senior thesis research. Many students choose to write a senior honors thesis, original work that allows the student to delve deeply into an area of interest, mentored by a faculty member. Regardless of discipline, students can obtain funding through the Gregory S. Call Student Research Award program to begin their thesis research in the summer before their senior year, as well as funds to support archival research, and—in the case of a music composition, theatrical work or artistic project—funds for supplies.
The program also supports student research during the academic year, including travel support for honors thesis work and scientific research. Additional funds (the Alpha Delta Phi Fund and the David P. Patchel Memorial Fund) support senior projects in the humanities and social sciences, including senior essay writing, production projects and other comparable independent projects in literary studies, creative writing, theater and dance, or film.
Read about Eric Jung ’21’s experience investigating the migration and motility of the single-celled organism Dictyostelium discoideum, under the mentorship of Professor Marc Edwards.
Academic interns assist faculty members with their research both during the summer and during the academic year.
Faculty across disciplines hire current Amherst students to work closely with them on original research. Students conduct literature searches, do archival work, pull together information or materials needed to develop new courses, and record and analyze data from experiments or surveys. In 2020, 106 students received funding through this program during the summer, and another 100 will receive funding each semester during the academic year. Academic departments often fund additional student interns.
Economics: In the summer of 2020, students assisted Professor Caroline Theoharides (above) in analyzing data from a large randomized control trial that she ran in the Philippines to examine whether perceptions of child labor changed in response to an experiment.
Computer Science: In 2020, Professor Tanya Leise’s students extended applications developed by an earlier group of students, to develop a user-friendly interface and robust code for uploading a wide variety of data file formats.
Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought: Professor Adam Sitze worked with an intern over summer 2020 to frame his argument on academic freedom and also to ensure that his prose was accessible to a non-specialist.
Chemistry: Professor Jacob Olshanky’s academic intern built a computational model that predicts properties of photoexcited states in nanocrystals. The intern will compare the results of this model to unpublished experimental data to help craft figures and text toward a publishable manuscript that will combine the experimental data and the computational model.
The STEM Incubator Project aims to hatch new scientists from underrepresented backgrounds and provide them with the tools necessary to succeed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In 2020, 18 rising sophomores got an in-depth introduction to STEM research during six weeks of working with 14 faculty and staff members in a pilot of the Incubator Project.
The Engaged Research Program supports juniors pursuing community-engaged research or place-based research for a senior thesis or capstone project during the summer before their senior year. Stipends of up to $5,500 will be awarded.
The Varmus International Fellows program supports Amherst College students pursuing independent scholarly work, approved by a faculty sponsor, in any field outside of the United States for a period of beween 12 weeks and 6 months. Stipends of $8,250 will be awarded for projects in 2021.
The Amherst–Folger Undergraduate Fellowship program began in 1996 and awards as many as six student fellowships each year, enabling Amherst students to explore the collections of one of the world’s premier research libraries—the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. The program takes an expansive view of research and has included projects not only in English and history, but in anthropology, psychology, art, music, Black studies, digital humanities, Asian studies, political science and Statistics. The fellowship program is overseen at Amherst by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry, with funds provided by the Friends of the Amherst College Library.
The Summer Bridge Research Institute introduces participants to research traditions, approaches and procedures in the humanities and social sciences. The goal is to help students develop their research skills and to provide the building blocks for further coursework and careers for which research and research skills are essential. This six-week program provides a remarkable opportunity for sustained exploration of the way humanists and social scientists think about research. Fellows of the Summer Institute work independently and collectively in close concert with faculty mentors.
The Summer Science Undergraduate Research Experience
2019’s SURF Researchers
The Summer Science Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) gives first- and second-year students the chance to assist in a research project in a professor’s discipline. SURF researchers receive a weekly salary, as well as on-campus housing and a meal plan.
Watch a Three-Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition, plus talks compiled by the Amherst STEM Network on topics ranging from distorted symbols at a German rock concert to climate shifts during the Holocene—all boiled down to three minutes.
The Post-Baccalaureate Coursework Option supports up to three graduates to return to Amherst for one or two semesters, in order to boost their proficiency in science, complete science requirements for medical school, and take additional math and science courses as needed.
The Amherst Folger Humanities Fellowship provides an Amherst College graduate with nine months of professional development at two world-class institutions—the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
See our post-grad outcomes: Each year, the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning conducts a survey asking graduates about their first career steps beyond Amherst.