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Mythbusting: SIR 2020-21

Written by: Rishitha Boddu

Close your eyes and go back to that day in March 2020 when an unfortunate email was sent out to the entire IMSA student body. It informed us that we would most likely not return to campus to conclude the academic year after Spring break. The last thing on everyone’s hope-filled minds was how IMSA would be handling the upcoming semester. However, as the start of the new school year nears, we have all redirected our attention back to classes, extracurriculars, and of course, how to utilize I-days.

One of the most popular ways that IMSA students spend I-days is through the SIR program. However, with the transition to distance learning, Dr. Don’s retirement, and recent staff lay-offs as a result of budget cuts, rising juniors and seniors have been left not knowing how the SIR program will continue. In order to answer all your pending questions, I interviewed Dr. Anjur, one of the heads of the SIR program for the 2020-21 school year.


The staff for this year’s SIR program includes Dr. Devol, Dr. Anjur, and Mrs. Cunz. The IMSA SIR program, which stands for student inquiry and research, has been providing IMSA juniors and seniors the opportunity to conduct professional research since 1989. The program has offered students the chance to apply their knowledge in a professional setting, present their research findings, and further build their network.. According to the SIR website, which you can visit at, “the goal of the SIR program is to teach IMSA students how to carry out authentic research. The program is intended to instruct students in the methods of doing research in a discipline of their interest.”

The research can take place either on campus with an IMSA faculty member or with an advisor at off campus laboratories including Northwestern, Argonne National Laboratory, Fermilab, UIC and many more reputed facilities around Illinois. 

SIRs don’t always have to be science based, either — although most students who partake in SIR choose a field in the sciences. Other SIR topics include art, politics, history, economics, computer science, and more!

To be eligible to participate in SIR, you must be a rising junior or senior at IMSA. I mention the term “rising” because you can even do an SIR over summer before your junior year! This is especially rewarding if you believe you won’t have enough time for an SIR during school or if you just want more experience working on your project. A downside to summer SIR is finding your own ride to an off-campus location. Another downside is there are no on-campus SIRs, so you won’t be able to work with IMSA faculty members. If you choose to participate in the year-long cohort, IMSA would generally provide transportation for you and drive you to your lab in our iconic IMSA shuttles. Also, because of IMSA’s inquiry-based academic philosophy, students only attend classes four days a week, with Wednesday reserved as Inquiry days or I-days for students doing an SIR, internship, or independent study.

To gain a credit for your SIR, you must submit a meaningful proposal to the SIR department to be approved. During the cohort, you’re required to write a research paper and presentation to showcase on the IMSA digital commons. You also present your findings at IMSAloquium, a conference hosted in April where IMSA students present their research in groups.

A big reason many students come to IMSA is for the wonderful SIR program but let’s take a look at the changes we’re facing for this upcoming year.


Over the course of quarantine, we have received four emails in total giving us information about SIR, two from Dr. Torres and two from the SIR department itself. To summarize the main idea from all four emails, SIR will still be happening, although, with less opportunities. Wet labs, meaning conducting an experiment in a lab, will not be an option because they require equipment which you can only get in person. The only other option is to do a remote SIR either on or off campus. Students interested in the sciences can work on dry labs, data collection, and modelling instead of a wet lab. Although students interested in SIR were originally instructed not to email advisors, Dr. Anjur has informed me that students can go ahead and email potential advisors and include the SIR department (at in the email.


Dr. Anjur confirmed that the SIR department will not allow any students to go to a lab in person to conduct research. Students who do so without first informing the SIR office cannot receive credit for the course. However, Dr. Anjur said if a student is able to find a remote opportunity that can still be a fruitful experience, they should submit the proposal to the SIR department for further information. There will be no transportation provided for students if we return to campus.


There are currently three official on campus SIR opportunities: Drug discovery with Dr. John Thurmond, Econometrics analysis in social science with Dr. Patrick Kearney, and IMSA-CMS with Dr. Peter Dong. However, they have all reached their capacity — so, unfortunately, joining these SIRs is no longer an option. When speaking with Dr. Anjur, she mentioned that her best advice for students is to contact IMSA faculty members about doing research with them on campus. She sent out SIR guidelines to the IMSA students, faculty and staff this afternoon. Dr. Anjur is currently working with five students on  modeling subtopics within the topic of brain cancer. She is also willing to take 1-2 more students for her SIR, so if you have an interest in oncology, make sure to reach out to her directly.

Dr. Anjur suggests and encourages students to reach out to faculty members for an SIR opportunity rather than trying to find one off campus. Staff members can support anywhere from 2-5 students in a research opportunity and it is much easier to reach out to IMSA staff rather than off-campus contacts.


First of all, if you still haven’t finalized a proposal and advisor, do not panic. During our call, Dr. Anjur mentioned that, usually, SIR proposals are due in September which gives all you aspiring researchers about a month to finish up your search for a good SIR project. Make sure to communicate with the SIR department if you have found an SIR to submit a proposal.

Another option, which is only available to seniors, is doing an independent study which is similar to SIR but is more flexible. The SIR department manages all details related to SIR but independent studies are managed by the principal’s office . Upholding and executing the scientific method is what distinguishes an SIR project from an independent study. An independent study can be either one semester or two semesters long whereas SIR is for the entire year. With an independent study: you are not required to create a presentation for IMSAloquium but have the option to do so. Independent Study has traditionally been managed by the Principal’s office, and is an arrangement between teacher/staff member and student for work on a topic of the student’s interest. Contact the principal’s office for more information. Although that was a lot of information to retain, all your questions are hopefully answered. If you still have some unanswered questions, contact the SIR department, Dr. Anjur, Dr. Devol, or Mrs. Cunz. Good luck with your SIR!

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