Villanova Research Opportunities

At Villanova Univeristy, students have the opportunity to conduct research under the mentorship and guidance of distinguished faculty. Below are research projects developed by faculty research mentors who are seeking research assistants. Applicants do not need substantial experience as they will serve as research assistants to faculty mentors.

Application Instructions

 To apply for a research assistantship, please complete the following steps:

1.       Review the research projects in the table below.

2.       Identify a research project that interests you.

*(If you do not find a project that matches your interest, please contact Catherine Stecyk at for a meeting).

3.       Submit a resume and cover letter directly to the Faculty Research Mentor via the e-mail address provided in the table.

  • Please include in your one page resume your GPA in addition to your academic, professional, and relevant experiences and skills. If you are freshman, please include your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores
  • Please include in your one page cover letter your motivations and qualifications for this research assistantship.

4.       The Faculty Research Mentor will review your application materials (resume and cover letter) and will respond to you.






Faculty Mentor



Education & Counseling

Antiracism Instruction: Outcomes of a Clinical Counseling Course on Race


How do we teach school counselors to effectively address issues of race, racism, and healthy racial identity development of their young clients in school settings?  And how do we better train school counselors to actively work to reduce racism (at all levels) when they see it in their colleagues as well as in the system itself?


These are the underlying questions that led to the development of a master-level race-based course, now in its 7th year of being applied with master-level school counseling students.


Our study seeks to understand if and how the course is actually impacting school-counseling students.  Quantitative and qualitative measures are being used to assess for student racial identity (and antiracist) growth.


1.         To familiarize you, through assigned readings and discussions with Dr. Malott (the faculty mentor), with the study constructs/language related to the study, such as race, racism, Whiteness, privilege/oppression, antiracist actions, counseling, etc.


2.         To obtain training from Dr. Malott in transcribing recorded data from a focus group with master-level counseling students who have completed the race-based course.


3.         To transcribe a focus group interview completed with students from the race-based course (e.g., transcription is a very detailed and slow process of typing up every single word stated by all persons in the interview, as well as noting ‘pauses’ and other significant actions/inferences). There will be periodic, ongoing checks by Dr. Malott to verify accuracy of the transcription process.


4.         Should the student express interest in additional learning, Dr. Malott will offer additional consult and training regarding the analysis process of the qualitative data or regarding the study constructs themselves.


Krista Malott




Which recipe rocks?

Sea urchins are keystone species in marine environments.  One research focus of my lab is the physiological ecology of purple sea urchins.  My student-colleagues and I investigate the interaction this species has with the rocky substrates where it occurs.  A former student demonstrated that as urchins graze, they also “bioerode” the substrate and ingest sedimentary particles they scrape off with their teeth.  This erosion produces pits in the rock that provides protection for the urchins.  However, we do not know if ingesting the rock provides any nutritional value (sedimentary rock has an organic component).  We will test this hypothesis using standard, nutritional-physiology methods by incorporating sedimentary particles in an agar-based artificial food pellet.  The contribution the Research Assistant will make is to help evaluate and optimize the “recipe” in creating these artificial pellets.  We will start with published formulae for creating the pellets, and modify them to produce the best “rock recipe” for sea urchins.


Research Assistant with interest in Marine Biology and/or Nutritional Physiology



The Russell Lab in Biology is set up to conduct marine biology experiments with live sea urchins.  A new avenue of investigation in 2015 will entail modifying standard agar-based artificial feeds for sea urchins.  I will provide the Research Assistant with background literature on the methods for producing these artificial food-pellets, as well as all the necessary ingredients, equipment, and instruction.  The Research Assistant will make both the standard pellets, and conduct trials modifying the standard recipes to incorporate sedimentary rock particles (instead of the usual mixture of carbohydrates, fats, and protein).  We will use these pellets in feeding and absorption experiments to test the hypothesis that sea urchins reap a nutritional benefit from ingesting sedimentary particles while grazing.


Michael Russell




Using DNA sequence data as a tool for species delimitation in lizards and snakes

As a part of an NSF funded project on the effects of climate change on lizards (with Dr. Aaron Bauer), my lab is utilizing both mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA variation in lizards from areas of the world that may be sensitive to climate change. We are using a combination of PCR to amplify genes, and Sanger sequencing to obtain sequences of those genes. An equal component to the laboratory work is DNA sequence analysis – phylogenetic trees, mapping locality information, and new methods of species delimitation are being used in combination with other data to make inferences about the evolutionary history of populations and whether populations are distinct enough to be called species.


Freshmen will have a variety of responsibilities varying from laboratory upkeep (e.g. racking tips for PCR and DNA sequencing, participating in laboratory clean-up) to assisting graduate students and our post-doc in projects. Students with time and aptitude can be trained in PCR, DNA sequencing, database management, phylogenetic analysis and species delimitation. Freshmen will begin with upkeep and training and move into roles with increasing independence as skills are learned. Students are expected to attend weekly laboratory meetings and to participate in discussions of research, eventually presenting some of their own research.


Todd Jackman




Song repertoires and responses of chickadees to song playback in a rapidly moving hybrid zone  

Hybridization provides excellent opportunities for investigating fundamental evolutionary and ecological questions about the process of speciation, and thus about maintenance of biodiversity. Members of the Curry lab have studied hybridization between Carolina and black-capped chickadees in SE Pennsylvania since 1998. We have shown that narrow zone of overlap of these two species is moving northward rapidly, with high levels of hybridization currently occurring at Hawk Mountain (Berks County). The population at this site now includes pure individuals of both species and hybrids. A key aspect of our field study concerns the cues that influence mate choice (and thus the production of hybrids by mixed pairs). Among these factors is song. In 2012-2014, members of the lab made digital recordings of the song repertoires of individuals at the site, and a former student completed playback experiments to measure behavioral responses to the songs of each species. A priority of current research is to understand the extent to which vocal variation and behavioral responses depend on the genetic makeup of each individual, relative to the extent of vocal learning. The answers will contribute importantly to our understanding of the degree to which females can rely on “honest” cues for mate choice. 


The research assistant’s primary responsibility will be to analyze digital recordings compiled in the field previously, using software specifically designed for that purpose (Raven Pro, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). One set of recordings concern spontaneous bouts of singing during the “dawn chorus,” sampled in spring near active nests using Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs); a second set represent samples of vocal responses during field experiments in which the focal bird heard alternating playbacks of the song of each parental species. The student will learn to categorize recorded songs based on objective measures of the notes (number of notes, their pitch, their duration, and their temporal spacing) and then use these results to quantitatively characterize each male’s repertoire and “vocal personality.” The freshman research assistant will collaborate with graduate students investigating the genetic identities of the same individual chickadees, using laboratory methods in molecular ecology, including DNA extraction, PCR amplification of DNA, restriction enzyme digests, and gel electrophoresis. The research assistant will then help compare the vocal and genetic data to assess the extent to which they are associated. She/he will also contribute to laboratory and field preparations for continued observation and experimentation during the 2015 nesting season. 


Robert Curry