Professor Steven D. Allison considers the undergraduate students in his lab to be an integral part of his research team. He looks for students with a high level of motivation and expects them to push themselves to participate in all aspects of the scientific process. He is particularly gratified when his student s propose new ideas that they have developed themselves. A number of Professor Allisonís undergraduate students have had the opportunity to co-author peer-reviewed articles as a result of his mentorship.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

As a professor in the Ayala School of Biological Sciences, I knew there were many talented undergraduates interested in research opportunities, and I wanted to help them contribute to the scientific process. I've directed many projects, having mentored forty undergraduate researchers over the past eight years. The topics range from climate change to microbial ecology and mathematical modeling.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I look for students with sincere motivations about why they want to conduct research. I expect my students to attend lab meetings, collect high quality data, and push themselves to engage in all aspects of the scientific process.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

There needs to be someone in the lab who can train and assist research students. In many cases, my graduate students, postdocs, or technician have helped mentor students in the lab day to day. But I often like to check in with the lab and get updates on the student projects. More recently, I have been mentoring students more directly through weekly meetings. The level of engagement increases significantly when students are motivated to apply for UROP funds or do Excellence in Research. I invest a lot of effort in helping these students develop their independent projects, refine their writing, and formulate presentations.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I think all of my students learn to appreciate the complexity of ecosystem science specifically and the challenges and rewards of conducting research more generally.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I have learned that with the right mentoring, undergraduates can make large, important contributions to the scientific enterprise. I have had research students coauthor peer-reviewed scientific articles and generate data that has formed the basis for many manuscripts.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

I would recommend that students challenge themselves to engage with the whole scientific process. I'm satisfied if students just collect high quality data, but I always tell my students that they get out what they invest in the process. If you want to be an independent researcher, that requires taking risks and spending a lot of time on background research, reading, and writing outside the lab. I'm always pleased when students come to me and ask if they can pursue an idea that they came up with on their own. That happened with several of the students in my lab right now.

Research Interests: Microbial ecology, theory, and biogeochemistry

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '15 Barbara Sarnecka
Nov. '15 Sarah Pressman
Oct. '15 Elliot Botvinick
Sep. '15 Xiangmin Xu
Aug. '15 Belinda Campos
Jul. '15 Yama Akbari
Jun. '15 Loretta Livingston
May. '15 Mohammad Al Faruque
Apr. '15 Steven D. Allison
Mar. '15 Emily D. Grossman
Feb. '15 Munjal M. Acharya
Jan. '15 Marcelo A. Wood