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Undergraduate Research, an approach to create sustained academic curiosity

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Summary

Academic research should not be limited to students of an advance level alone, it is imperative to start acclimatising first-year undergraduate students to open up to independent academic thought. All academic institutions need to celebrate their undergraduates and give them a chance to participate in academic discourse, they need to feel welcomed, included and confident in the perspective they choose to represent.

Full Article

Academia for students and staff can be a vast maze of curiosities and offer opportunities for in-depth analysis to provide clarity to understand the world around us. As students and researchers who are part of a global academic complex, it is important to ask ourselves questions about the accessibility of research, how does one explain our findings to the to members from other disciplines? An academic institution thrives on interdisciplinary co-operation, not a water bank separation between streams. Academic research should not be limited to students of an advance level alone, it is imperative to start acclimatising first-year undergraduate students to open up to independent academic thought (1). While it is true that undergraduate students might initially struggle to conceive an original full-fledged thesis statement, even a beginner’s level understanding of research methods and the ability to frame questions will help in understanding the applications of their discipline better, providing for a more curious and accepting environment for research at beginner’s level (2). In order to think critically, and to mould various contexts into their studies, undergraduate researchers should not feel limited by their degree-specific subjects; a student of microbiology should be allowed to explore literature or philosophy ushering in a perspective that may have previously not been considered. To make meaningful strides in the field of interdisciplinary research on an undergraduate level universities need to provide support, through workshops from academics both from within and outside the institution, peer mentorships between master’s level and undergraduate students and peer-reviewed papers spanning across a wide range of disciplines. Platforms to present work and ongoing snags in research will encourage a group effort to solve problems and come up with better ways to focalise academic discourse and increase patience and persistence required for in-depth study and make the entire process more accessible to everyone studying in an institution. This will help the budding researchers understand research ethics, the diversity in structures of academic arguments and provide a much-needed bridge between the faculty and the students, it gives them a chance to modify and accommodate more critical thought based on these student-led symposiums. These efforts should not be a reward for scoring well in a semester but must be beyond that; programs that feature the work of undergraduates need to be as diverse as possible, a poor performance should not stop a student from exploring their research interests and more importantly should not stop the university from providing additional support in terms of those who need it (3). This form of research needs a platform, a research meet or conference that sparks spirited debates and panel discussions both within an academic institution and between other institutions. Promising multidisciplinary research should be discussed and presented in national-level research conventions and when the parent university has a chance, should be showcased on an international level. Research experience on an undergraduate level will drum up a greater interest in advance research-based degree programs and also incorporate transferable skills like designing a presentation, tailoring ones’ work to suit an audience of varying educational backgrounds and interests, making an evidence-based case and answering questions that are integral to professional life outside the academic bubble. Furthermore, science institutions need to have sister departments in the humanities and the social sciences and vice versa, students need to diversify if not in their final years of study then at least in their first two years of their degree. One module that not only provides a different skill and perspective but an academic reprieve from the grind of their core subjects. Once again, peer mentorship across departments will provide clarity in understanding of the subject and give an insight anothers’ academic process. The subjects have to be engaging enough to students so it does not feel like a burden while simultaneously introducing them to academic critics and experts and encourage them to come up with their own arguments. Optional courses like analysis of popular films, novels and creative writing spring to mind as they are some of the many vessels that can carry interdisciplinary thought. Universities can also provide a department that administrates such activities and actively promotes student researchers of all genders, sexualities and social backgrounds because the personal experiences of the students can facilitate research and drive social change. The institution can facilitate funding for student-led research including grants and scholarships that once again need to span across multiple academic disciplines. Furthermore, it would helpful for students as well as academic guides to have a national online forum to look for previous research and discuss techniques when there are not workshops or presentations scheduled. This forum should contain the work of former undergraduates as well as a way to collaborate. To make students feel comfortable in this online setting particularly while asking and answering questions their names can be kept anonymous if they preferred it. This is by no means an idea that has been implemented in various countries around the world to integrate academic curiosity under one nurturing roof to encourage research output but, there need to be more platforms for undergraduates to interrogate their research interests. All academic institutions need to celebrate their undergraduates and give them a chance to participate in academic discourse, they need to feel welcomed, included and confident in the perspective they choose to represent. Any university’s academic discourse needs to resemble an ideological coalition and a boost undergraduate research will ensure that.

 

(1)Carleton, Undergraduate Research <https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/studentresearch/Why.html>

(2)John K Petrella, Alan P Jung. “Undergraduate Research: Importance, Benefits, and Challenges.” International journal of exercise science vol. 1,3 91-95. 15 Jul. 2008.

(3)Chad Orzel, Why Research by Undergraduates is Important for Science and Students, Forbes, July 12 2017<https://www.forbes.com/sites/chadorzel/2017/07/12/why-research-by-undergraduates-is-important-for-science-and-students/>

Uthpala Ramprasad is a third-year undergraduate student from the University of Leeds. The views expressed are personal.

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