Written by Svetlana Dotsenko
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For many students, just starting a research project can be the tallest hurdle standing in the way of completing one. Nearly sixty percent of students at Harvard University who say they plan to do research projects end up graduating without actually doing so.
The students are frozen at the starting line with a series of basic but difficult questions. Which professor would make the ideal adviser for the project? Where are the best resources to use in the research? How do I find this information?
Or at least this is the view of a new Boston-based company that is trying to help students answer those questions with an “eAdvising” platform called Project Lever.
“An overwhelmingly favorite part of college for many students is the people they meet,” said Svetlana Dotsenko, the company’s CEO. “College is a network for life, from other students you meet in study groups, to your advisers, to the professors that lead you on this intellectual journey. We decided to create Project Lever to connect those people.”
Project Lever began in 2012 and is now in use at Harvard University, Tufts University, John Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The platform is based around a simple search function. After registering with the Project Lever website, a student can type her field of study into a search bar. Below that, the student can go into more detail about what her particular project is about.
“You can type in as much as you want,” Dotsenko said. “We encourage people to give us a lot of information.”
The site then uses an algorithm to match the student’s research interests with that of a specific professor at her institution. It also informs the student of “top matched funding” and similar “top matched projects.” The listings of the professors include what courses they teach, which students they have advised in the past and what publications they have been published in.
The potential mentors are ranked by percentages.
Option A may be a 90 percent match, for example, and Option B may be an 80 percent match. The student has the option to choose either adviser based on the rankings, not unlike on a dating website.
The service is free to students, but universities must pay a small fee. The company hopes to expand their reach to other universities soon and ideally start allowing students to search between different institutions, Dotsenko said.
“It seems like were solving a really large problem” she said. “Research projects sometimes really depend on how good of a mentor you have. This takes out that process, demystifies it a little bit. We’re very hopeful that if more universities adopt Project Lever, or something like this, they’ll see significant boons in research projects.”