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Symposium to encourage undergraduate research

Bethany Blair

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The College of Arts and Sciences is hosting a series of workshops aimed at increasing undergraduate involvement in professors’ research projects.

The symposium, which will be held Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Lloyd Hall and the Ferguson Center until March 9, feature presentations, question-and-answer sessions and panels both to help students take the first steps toward research participation and also get those currently involved more deeply immersed in their projects, according to a press release.

Ann Webb, director of undergraduate research in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she hopes the stereotypes surrounding research don’t deter students across campus from attending.

“I think undergraduate research is a vitally important part of educating students,” Webb said. “Typically, you see law students, grad students or pre-med students doing research, but that’s not at the top of my list. Any student in any field is encouraged to participate.”

Although student participation is both needed and encouraged, Webb said there is a window of time where students will benefit the most from research.

“I think we need to involve more sophomores in research projects,” Webb said. “A group of students ending their freshman or sophomore years would be ideal because there is time for them to become involved for as long as possible. So they’ll have two to three years to work in their selected field.”

The best way for students to begin their research endeavors is to attend the workshops, connect with the right people and take those first steps, Webb said.

“The workshops have become more of an idea about how to get involved in research, ways to define projects and specific fields students are interested in,” she said. “I hope they serve as facilitators to help students find their interests and connect with the appropriate faculty to carry out that research.”

In order to help students find the appropriate faculty member, Webb said she hopes to launch a website to better help undergraduates navigate their research opportunities. The website will list new faculty members, help students hone in on their interests and provide opportunities to apply for research positions with those professors.

However, partnerships between professors and students don’t stop at the College of Arts and Sciences. Karl Hamner, director of scholarly affairs in the College of Nursing, said undergraduate research in nursing and social work is vastly prominent and diverse.

“Research in nursing is centered around anything from the HIV/AIDS stigma in rural African men to diabetes self management using technology,” Hamner said. “But most students are focused on community-based health issues. This means students involved would focus on keeping Alabama healthy with a concentration on rural health.

“For social work, we have a lot of undergrads involved in researching issues ranging from supporting caregivers of adult mentally ill and [studying] how to cope with the role of caregiver, to properly assessing mental health and substance abuse for kids entering correctional institutions,” he said.

In the Department of Astronomy and Physics, research also covers a broad spectrum, but the ways in which students can conduct it are also numerous, said Stan Jones, former chair of the department.

“A good number do participate and some start right as freshman doing real lab work or competing in competitions as far away as Japan,” Jones said. “We have a requirement for the degree that the student take a senior lab. But when I was Chair, most of the students opted to do individual research with a faculty member instead of the course. The course was all these canned, outdated experiments whereas with a faculty member, they’re actually doing experiments that are relevant to the current technology.”

Jones said a hands-on approach to learning is the best way to prepare students for real-life situations.

“People always say you learn by doing, not by listening,” Jones said. “Research is really the purest way of doing things and, for that reason, I find students learn a lot through it. Even in rather complicated research labs, students catch on really fast. We tend to think they need a lot of complicated courses before they can contribute to the labs, but that’s not the case. They’re not just sitting around taking up space.”

For more information on the workshops, and how to become involved in undergraduate research, visit the University’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity website at osp.ua.edu.

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Symposium to encourage undergraduate research