Marist math students gain first hand experience through undergrad research

There’s more to the world of the math major than huge textbooks and equations that fill multiple pages. Beneath all of those sheets of paper are students who are gaining first hand field experiences and contributing to their field through undergraduate student research. Marist sophomore Emma Talis is one of those students, and she recently presented her research to Marist College on November 7.

This past summer, Talis spent eight weeks at the University of Nebraska –Lincoln working with four other students, two professor mentors and one graduate student mentor on a research project. Talis had just finished her freshman year making her the youngest of the group.

For Talis, the experience was nerve-wracking at first, but, fortunately, the research was utilizing differential equations – a class she had just completed in the spring and most of her group members hadn’t taken for a few years.

“I got there and I was intimidated,” Talis said, “but I soon got my head straight. I had just come off differential equations [and] I had a leg up. Once we started we were all on the same playing field.”

After a week’s review of the material, the group set to work on their project  entitled “One Patch Giveth, The Predator Taketh Away: The Effect of Prey Dispersal on a Two Patch Predator-Prey System.” The project utilized differential equations and found that the introduction of a second patch that was favorable to the predator increased the predator’s survival. Further, increasing the dispersal between the two patches could both stabilize and destabilize the coexistence equilibrium.

Talis’ presentation of her project to the Marist community is just one of the many presentations she will be doing across the country.

Due to the encouragement of Dr. Matthew Glomski of the math department, Talis took the chance and applied. Glomski had met Talis through Math Club her freshman year and told her about the programs. Over winter break, Glomski coached Talis on the application process, by February her applications were completed and a few days after the deadline she received an acceptance email.

“I called Glomski and he was so excited,” Talis remembered. “Only at that point did I realize how big of a deal it was for a freshman to be accepted.”

Talis joins a long list of Marist students who have completed undergrad research. In the last four years, Marist has sent 11 different students to 14 different programs. In the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Programs, students can conduct research that explores math for the sake of math or projects that answer ‘real world’ questions.

“This is just one more feature that a student interested in grad school can show off,” Glomski said. “Grad schools want to know if you can work on a project even though you don’t even know if you will get an answer to your question.”

Not only do students have the chance to gain field experience, but they are also paid a stipend – usually around $500 per week. In Talis’ case, she received a $4000 stipend plus free housing and a meal plan for the two months.

Math majors at Marist can graduate with honors if they complete a for-credit independent study that is approved by the department. Further, students interested in research can begin by working with professors on case studies that interest them.

Tracey McGrail, the chairperson of the Math Department, offered this advice to students: “Talk to professors, research and start early- it’s never too early to apply. Look for a place and topic that you like and just go for it.”

Glomski agreed and emphasized the importance of taking initiative by looking at the suggested readings offered in the textbooks.

“Inspiration can come from anywhere,” Glomski said. “Find things that interest you, and take that experience and bottle it.”

Senior Sam Sprague will be presenting her research at the San Antonio conference alongside Talis. Like Talis, she completed a research program the summer following her freshman year at St. Mary’s College and another at the New York Department of Health.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sprague said. “I was able to begin the process of publishing my research and I made connections in order to get recommendations and advice.”

Talis agrees – the younger you can be involved, the better it is, and that is true for all majors.

“Research isn’t just for math people,” Talis said. “Do [research programs] early, so that you have more time and information to share with students and make Marist better.”

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