Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Editorial: The Dissemination and Globalisation of Undergraduate Research

Naomi Falkenburg, Caroline Gibson and Catherine Hanley, University of Warwick

 

In this month of the much-publicised Titanic anniversary, it is perhaps apt to note that the undergraduate research which Reinvention has showcased over the last five years is merely the tip of the iceberg. Undergraduates carry out a great deal of research, but much of it has an extremely small target audience, in that it is carried out and written up for assessment, and will probably be seen only by its markers before being filed away.

This is to deprive the scholarly community of work which is both of interest and of academic value. Many universities now encourage their undergraduate students to research, and this needs to be matched by encouragement and support to disseminate the results of that research, whether this is achieved via publication, conference presentation, performance, or some other means. Students can feel intimidated by the thought of presenting their findings in a public forum, and universities can help by allaying their fears and providing them with an environment in which their participation is welcomed; in this way the junior researchers of today become the senior researchers of tomorrow.

One notable example of support is UCLan's journal Diffusion (www.uclan.ac.uk/diffusion), published twice per year, which gives the institution's students the opportunity to disseminate their work and, crucially, the incentive to develop and refine their research as they work towards publication. In 2011, UCLan (which, appropriately, was originally called The Preston Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge) hosted the inaugural British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), which was an enormous success.

The University of Warwick recently hosted the second BCUR, the details and programme of which are available at www.bcur.org; Reinvention will be publishing a selection of papers from this year's BCUR as a special issue later this year, which will provide a number of students with the opportunity to refine their work and engage with the academic publishing process, probably for the first time. At the conference, students presented their work in a wide variety of media, including video and performance as well as the more traditional spoken presentations and posters; this is one means by which our junior researchers can flag to their more experienced colleagues the potential of new modes of research and presentation which may become commonplace in the future.

A large majority of the BCUR undergraduate delegates said that attending the conference had had a positive impact on the way they saw themselves as academic researchers, and that they were more likely to be involved with academic research as a result of attending. Giving students an opportunity to become active members of their research community and giving them a voice to disseminate within that community seems crucial to their continued involvement in academic research. A further step on the road towards welcoming them into the research community would be to offer financial support: many or most academic staff have conference-attendance funds which they can call on, but the same is not true for the vast majority of undergraduates.

Of course, conference presentation is not the only means by which undergraduates can disseminate their work. Publication in journals or books is the widely accepted method by which more senior researchers make their ideas public, and this can be extended to undergraduates also, although they may need more support as they take their first steps. During the past three years the Reinvention journal team has run free half-day workshops for undergraduate students on 'Writing for Publication', and the feedback we have received from participants indicates that they were more ready to embark upon the dissemination of their research than they realised: the one word which appears, overwhelmingly, throughout the feedback forms is 'confident':

I feel a lot more confident - I have a far better idea of where to start! The training has made me more confident, inspired, interested.

I feel confident about receiving criticism - not worrying about being rejected.

Alongside the word 'confident' we also hear 'scared' and 'daunted', but such words are used alongside 'eager' and 'excited'. Through offering undergraduates structured and supported dissemination experiences we can take these daunted and sometimes frightened students and harness their eagerness and enthusiasm, enabling them to become confident researchers and communicators.

[I feel] encouraged, more than anything - more positive that publishing my research is attainable as a goal as an undergraduate.

The dissemination of undergraduate research is an international phenomenon. The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in the USA (http://www.weber.edu/ncur2012) is now in its 25th year, and as a large-scale event attracting thousands of delegates is an example of how widespread undergraduate research could be if given the right encouragement. With the first ACUR in Australia scheduled to take place at Macquarie University in Sydney on 20 September 2012 (http://mq.edu.au/ltc/altc/ug_research/acur2012-callforpapers.htm), and a CCUR being discussed in Canada, it would seem that students are gaining more and more opportunities to disseminate their research. BCUR itself will continue in 2013, hosted by Plymouth University.

Internationalisation is a key theme for Reinvention, too: as we go to press we are excited to be signing an agreement with Monash University in Australia which will see the journal re-launched, re-designed and re-branded as a truly collaborative, multi-disciplinary, cross-hemisphere venture. Monash is Australia's largest university, and has its own publishing arm (http://www.publishing.monash.edu/) with whom we will be working closely. Students from Monash and Warwick will form an integrated student editorial team, providing all of them with a valuable experience in working with others who are not just from different disciplines but different countries as well. The current Warwick team - itself already comprising students and staff of four nationalities - is looking forward with great excitement to the new developments, which will have a huge positive impact for Reinvention. Our collaboration in the journal forms one part of a wider Warwick-Monash strategic alliance, designed to ensure that both universities are positioned to compete in a changing environment and to offer international opportunities to students, staff and industry partners (http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/international/collaboration/monash/; http://www.monash.edu.au/news/show/monash-and-warwick-form-global-alliance).

The papers in the current issue reflect both multidisciplinarity and globalisation, and all have in common the theme of human interaction and communication, whether personal or virtual. In an excellent example of collaborative work, medical students Adrian Hayes, Rosalind Pool, Christopher Roughley, Sam Scholes, Laurence Sharifi, Rebecca Woodside, Siobhan Reilly, Poppy Roberts, Thomas Salter and Laura Singleton (Warwick) investigate the subject of the handover of patients between medical staff at shift changes, highlighting the dangers which may ensue if miscommunication occurs. Meanwhile Marjolein Kramer (University College Utrecht), one of the prize-winners from the Warwick Economics Summit (http://www.warwickeconomicssummit.com/2012/) analyses online shopping behaviour in the Netherlands, and the reasons why shoppers there may be increasingly likely to favour virtual purchasing over more traditional in-store personal experiences; and Mairena Hirschberg (University of Sussex) presents the results of her research project on how living with a chronic illness may affect the social participation of individuals, and their interaction with others and with their environment.

Human interaction in the sixteenth century is a feature of Martin Christ's (Warwick) analysis of the failure of the Reformation in Schwäbisch Gmünd in the sixteenth century, as he examines the reasons why the people of this city remained catholic while many others elsewhere did not. Richa Srivastava (Indian Institute of Technology), another prize-winner from the Warwick Economics Summit, analyses the nature and causes of international scientific collaboration and interaction between developed and developing countries in pharmaceuticals; and finally for this issue, Shen Ting Ang, Xu Chen and Thomas Nichols (Warwick) present a comparison of heritability estimators in brain imaging, which will have an impact on future twin studies used to measure genetic influence. The globalisation of undergraduate research extends to readers as well as writers: the fact that students in the UK can now learn more about the pharmaceutical industry in India, or that students in Australia are able to read about the Reformation in Germany, can only be to the advantage of the education landscape of the future.

Continuing our theme of the dissemination of undergraduate research, we are pleased to be able to include in the current issue a selection of the abstracts of papers presented at the Warwick Undergraduate Medical Research Conference, where students from the UK and beyond were able to communicate their research via oral presentations or posters. Our regular section featuring books reviewed by both an academic and an undergraduate student will return in an updated and expanded form in the next issue; we welcome suggestions from publishers and readers for books to review.

Finally, we would like to extend our sincere thanks and best wishes to our Editor Naomi Falkenburg and Assistant Editor Alex Marsden, both of whom will be leaving us at the end of the current academic year in order to pursue further study. We wish them every success both for their future research, and for the dissemination of it.

 

To cite this paper please use the following details: Falkenburg, N., Gibson, C. and Hanley, C. (2012), 'Editorial: The Dissemination and Globalisation of Undergraduate Research', Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 5, Issue 1, www.warwick.ac.uk/go/reinventionjournal/archive/volume5issue1/editorial Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal@warwick.ac.uk.