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Startup Connects Students to Research Resources

Though professors may spend their weeks lecturing, meeting with students, and mentoring advisees, much of their work outside of the classroom remains a mystery to most students.

This is the issue Svetlana I. Dotsenko ’11 was seeking to solve when she created the online platfrom Project Lever soon after graduating from the College. The startup, which aims to facilitate student searches for thesis advisers and research opportunities, joins the growing movement to digitize Harvard’s archives and resources.

Although Dotsenko, who concentrated in government, said that while she had a “great” advising experience, she wanted to improve the unwieldy task of identifying a faculty adviser for students in large departments.

“We needed some kind of tool to connect undergraduates to thesis advisers,” Dotsenko said. “It’s about helping those relationships within the University.”

Dotsenko began working with Karen Kaletka, coordinator of undergraduate studies in government, after gaining support from the government department to compile a list of theses, advisers, and courses that would guide juniors through the writing process.

Ian H. Clark ’12, Project Lever’s partnerships director, said it has been a challenge to search for past thesis topics and advisors because many of Harvard’s records are physical manuscripts rather than digital archives.

“Writing a thesis is not an easy task,” Clark said. “You need an easy-to-use system to manage the start of your thesis.”

MIT became Project Lever’s first client outside of the University this January. Clark and the Project Lever team are currently reaching out to other research institutitons to expand the scope of their services. They have also been working with current undergraduate students, such as Jackson F. Cashion ’13, to determine how best to meet students’ needs in the research process.

“There are a lot things that students have to balance throughout the thesis writing process—finding grants, an adviser, and library resources to connect them with primary sources. Project Lever streamlines that process into one unified tool,” Cashion said.

The founders hope to grow Project Lever into a tool to facilitate a wide range of research.

“Eventually we hope Project Lever can be used for research in general, not just for connecting students to thesis advisers,” Clark said.Given increasing access to academic records online, Dotsenko said that perhaps Project Lever may also be used to discourage plagiarism.

“We hope to make an open platform where people can see everything else before them and be inspired to create something great,” she said.

—Staff writer Jessica Barzilay can be reached at jessicabarzilay@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @jessicabarzilay.

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