Sunday, September 26, 2010

Undergraduate research during fiscal cuts

There are so many great opportunities for our undergraduates. I had the pleasure of taking several juniors to our state communication conference yesterday and was delighted to see how warmly they were received by professors and how excited the students were. The students and I presented a panel and they were professional, well-researched, and very capable to address a variety of questions from the diverse audience. Even though we do not have a Communication Studies program at my institution, the student Communication Club has provided an opportunity to introduce students to research beyond their coursework--and they are embracing such opportunities! Moreover, they were incredibly excited after they presented. They spoke about graduate programs and instantly wanted to consider regional and national presentation opportunities. I was a little shocked at how excited they were as I am somewhat numbed by conference presenting and though it is rewarding, the newness and excitement has diminished for me--until I saw them taking pictures of themselves by the poster with their panel description and names, uploading their images to facebook from their mobile phones, and claiming with their social networking status, "Just presented and did an awesome job!"

As a faculty member I know how easy it is to lament the lack of funding and assistance during today's difficult higher education budget environment. After yesterday's success, it was obvious that we may be overlooking the perfect opportunity to marry our research needs with our students' desires for opportunities. Reaching out to our undergraduates may allow them to explore and understand research, to become more familiar with our discipline's current knowledge, and to introduce them to disseminating research through presentations and writing. It appears to be a symbiotic relationship that can provide both the faculty member and the student with several benefits.

Why not include our undergraduates more fully in our research? Here are a few ideas:
- Ask for those who would like to participate in state or regional (or national) conferences that welcome undergraduate research. Mentor them as they work on their research and explore their presentational dynamics.
- Seek out opportunities for the students to assist in data-entry or literature reviews where they can learn library techniques and software and where you can get your research progressing toward publication.
- If you work with students, share the limelight! Allow the students to highlight their work and share in yours at conferences or in publications.
- Share their energy. Let their excitement for new opportunities reinvigorate your research and professional drive.
- Consider sponsoring an undergraduate research day at your institution where students can present to the campus and earn valuable experience sharing knowledge with others.
- Don't underestimate your undergraduates. They are amazingly equipped and a little guidance can go a long way.
- Share your ideas and activities with other professors!