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Scholarly Symbiosis

With the guidance of USC Dornsife faculty, undergraduates are creating their own spaces for dynamic learning by contributing to research studies or embarking on independent study projects.

Scholarly Symbiosis

It’s no secret: Learning happens in many places, not just the classroom. In fact, students throughout USC Dornsife create their own spaces for learning by tapping into faculty expertise. By contributing to research studies or embarking on independent study projects with their professors’ guidance, students are adding a dynamic element to their undergraduate education. These experiences reinforce their professional goals and build strong foundations for their careers.

Working with professors and more advanced students also adds another layer of understanding to the scholarly process, said sophomore Julia Lazzari-Dean. She’s a research assistant collaborating on a study with Moh El-Naggar, assistant professor of physics, and doctoral student Ian McFarlane.

“Professor El-Naggar and Ian do very different things in the laboratory and it’s very helpful for me to work alongside them,” Lazzari-Dean said. “As I plan my career and think about graduate school, they are models for me.”

Professors also benefit from collaborating with students, said El-Naggar.

“I rely on my graduate students for 90 percent of the active research work done in my lab. At some point in their graduate training, they become more like colleagues than students, and I think that’s when the real magic starts happening.”

For undergraduates, opportunities to participate in independent projects or research studies are an integral part of USC Dornsife’s mission, he noted. “I want to help them learn hands-on, and in the case of bright students like Julia, there is an immediate payoff because research projects will culminate in a publication.”

USC Dornsife encourages these partnerships by providing funding opportunities through programs like Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR), which supports collaboration between undergraduates and faculty, or the Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF), which provides funding for faculty-student research conducted during the summer. Many students pursue and earn additional stipends to support their work.

Here are a handful of the countless academic partnerships teeming in the laboratories, libraries and halls of USC Dornsife.


  Energy in a Bottle

As a research assistant in Moh El-Naggar's lab, Julia Lazzari-Dean regularly prepares solutions filled with microbes, which she studies closely with her collaborator Ian McFarlane. more >


  The Smiting King

A month into Grant Dixon's freshman year, he stumbled on a curious terracotta figurine in the Archaeology Research Center at USC Dornsife. more >


  The Philosopher

Tran Nguyen was surprised when she learned that the 18th-century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid hypothesized that the visual field obeys a non-Euclidean geometry. more >


  Cracking the Code

A manda Johnston's to-dos once she earns her bachelor's degree this May are pretty weighty. At the top of the list: a) train to become an emergency medical technician and b) attend medical school. more >


  Target Market

Mad Men’s Don Draper could learn a lesson from Emily Gee and Lisa Cui's research. The two USC Dornsife students conducted an independent study project in China and the United States.... more >

Read more articles from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of USC Dornsife Magazine