- Alison Olcott serves as the director of the Center for Undergraduate Research.
1. What is your professional background?
I am currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Geology. I began at KU in 2008 after I spent a year and change as a Postdoctoral Scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. I got my Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in Geology in 2006, and I got my Bachelor of Science in Geosciences from the University of Chicago in 1999. My path was not as straightforward as this would suggest, though: I spent the first three years of college trying out different majors, as I could never figure out what I wanted to focus on, as I like everything: history, biology, chemistry, math, writing. In the spring of my junior year I ended up doing undergraduate research in a dinosaur lab, and I realized within an hour that geology was a way for me to combine all of these interests together. I did not know how I wanted to combine them in graduate school, so I took two years off between undergraduate and graduate school to work in the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian, where I got to do amazing things like make a new dinosaur exhibit, poke through specimen cabinets, and organize long-lost fossil collections.
2. What is your background in research?
I do research in the field and in the laboratory. I try to use tools and approaches from geology, chemistry, and biology to examine the history of life on this planet, and to try to figure out the lessons from Earth that we can apply to our search for life on other planets.
3. What do you do at the Center for Undergraduate Research?
My job is to oversee the amazing work done by the staff and to help work with the staff to figure out what we can do to best support students and faculty interested in undergraduate research. My goal is that by the time they graduate, all undergraduates at KU will have an idea what research looks like in their major, will have been exposed to authentic research methods and results in their classes, and will have had the chance, if they desire, to do research themselves working with a faculty mentor.