The Collegian
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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COVID-19 obstructs internship and research opportunities for UR students

<p>Students conducting research in the Gottwald Center for the Sciences.</p>

Students conducting research in the Gottwald Center for the Sciences.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the world, summer internships and research opportunities are being canceled or altered. University of Richmond students are working to find internship and job opportunities for the summer and figuring out the logistics of remote internships.

Junior Grace Miller had to search for another internship. Miller originally received an offer from the consulting company Avascent, but the company retracted the offer, citing financial worries during the pandemic, she said.

“Obviously it’s not Avascent’s fault,” Miller said. “I still think they’re great, and I’d love to work with them in the future. It’s just kind of a bad set of cards to be dealt the summer before senior year.”

Almost immediately after hearing about the termination of her offer from Avascent, Miller, a leadership major, said she had emailed Kerstin Soderlund, associate dean for student and external affairs for the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. Soderlund reached out to UR alumni who work at Avascent and asked them to advocate for Miller if the situation were to change and they could hire more interns, Miller said.

Despite her disappointment, Miller said she had continued to apply to internships and had heard back about interviews from some. However, she has also gotten responses saying that companies’ intern searches are on pause until they completely transition into a COVID-19-friendly work environment or have been canceled completely, she said.

Miller recommended that students who were in a similar situation reach out to the Office of Alumni and Career Services. Beth Chancy, a career advisor and associate director of the career advising team, helped Miller come up with ideas for what she could do this summer, she said.

Chancy advised Miller on how to reach out to local companies and firms to possibly create her own internship or externship as well as on how to use this time to network and create connections that could help her receive full-time offers next year, Miller said.

Another summer opportunity called into question is summer research.

About 180 students were supposed to be involved in on-campus individual or team research this summer, said Kelly Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience and chair of the School of Arts and Sciences undergraduate research committee.

Currently, research can commence remotely on May 11 and in-person on June 15, although the ultimate decision comes from the faculty mentors and students involved, according to an April 1 email from Jeffrey Legro, executive vice president and provost. At present, on-campus research is not guaranteed for any students as UR continues to monitor whether it will be safe for students to return to campus this summer, according to the email.

“I think what’s important now is for students to go back, have a discussion with their faculty supervisors about the feasibility of [the research] and if it would work to actually do it online or some hybrid of that,” Lambert said.

Sophomore Andrew Felix was supposed to research green chemistry, or designing chemical products and processes to reduce the production of hazardous substances. Felix was planning to conduct his research this summer with William O’Neal, director of organic chemistry laboratories. However, O’Neal told Felix on April 17 that he was canceling his research and that Felix should defer to next summer.

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"I think the decision for me was just that I couldn’t see guaranteeing a real high-level research experience this summer," O'Neal said. "In part because no matter what scenario plays out, it would be shortened from the usual 10 weeks to seven weeks, so that presents some challenges."

Although disappointed in the cancellation, Felix chose to look at the positive side of the situation.

“At least if I defer, I have a guaranteed slot [next summer],” Felix said.

Lambert suggested that students whose research opportunities had been canceled to reach out to their faculty supervisors because they might have some suggestions for other local internships, research experiences or jobs.

Another resource Lambert suggested students contact is Benjamin Broening, an associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences who is also the program contact for the Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fellowships.

"If students have specific questions about how something might go with the contract this summer when decisions are going to be made, he’s a good resource as well," Lambert said.

Miller said she knew the current situation in the internship and research fields might seem disastrous to students. 

Nevertheless, she encouraged optimism and solidarity. “Everyone’s going through it, so we have to support each other," she said.

Contact news writer Maeve McCormick at maeve.mccormick@richmond.edu.

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