undergraduate research

This past week I attended the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR15) in Washington state. This conference highlighting undergraduate research projects, and preparing undergrads to enter the workforce/grad school talking about their projects and hard work made me realize a few things.

1. I need to refine my capstone research project so students have more than just a presentation, but a professional development opportunity. Students at NCUR presenting posters were excellent at brief statements about their project and findings, oral presenters were not as good. Since interviews are often short, I want my students to present to an academic audience, and to present to a professional audience to assist them with many different avenues they can enter post-graduation.

2. Even at the undergrad level disciplinary identities are obvious. Most STEM researchers presented posters, determined if the viewer was STEM and spoke accordingly. In a few cases, removing the technical jargon (something composition instructors attempt to help students with) was difficult. Many Humanities and Computer science majors were excellent at powerpoint presentations and discussions. Literature students read papers. I don’t know that these disciplinary ethos displays are bad, i’m just now hyperaware of how my presentation requirements and grading schema influence ‘what it means to be a rhetorician.’ At the lower course levels I’m wondering how open I should leave my rubric to allow other disciplinary identities to show through – but if students don’t yet know will they struggle with too few restrictions? It’s really interesting to see students between Sophomore and Senior levels presenting their work like faculty/grad students in the field. It raises a lot of pedagogical questions that I just don’t have answers for.

3. Undergraduate research is amazing. My students produce amazing questions and studies, my independent study students work so hard for projects they love. NAU has an undergraduate research symposium to showcase this work, but I’m wondering if there are better ways to help students practice discussing their work. Traditionally, and evidenced at NCUR, research means STEM fields. How do we create space for Humanities students to showcase the work they do and the important contributions of that work to the world? Forcing them into the STEM mold didn’t work well, and with the high number of presenters at NCUR and the NAU Undergraduate Research Symposium no one is paying them any attention. Do we need to meet STEM majors in their familiar ground to show them the work of Humanities or can we garner attention with new approaches to research idea dissemination?

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