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Editorial: A Global View of Undergraduate Research Reflected in Reinvention

Tim Ziegler, Monash University

 

In September this year, I was privileged to attend the second International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR; http://www.icurportal.com/). From video-link rooms at Monash University, I watched students in the UK, USA, Australia and Asia present their findings to an audience of peers and experienced academics. Yet for all the diversity in topics, methodologies and philosophies on display at ICUR, the cohort of presenters was united by their inquiring attitude and passion for discovery. This 24-hour, international event united cultures of undergraduate research from around the world, producing an intellectual dialogue few have the chance to experience. This reflects how ICUR has grown out of the collaboration between Monash and Warwick on Reinvention. Fundamentally, both projects aim to empower students who wish – regardless of discipline – to contribute to the accrued body of academic knowledge. As well as welcoming our new list of published authors in Volume 7 Issue 2, it feels timely to reflect upon different countries' and cultures' contributions to Reinvention over the past seven years.

Figure 1: Distribution of authors for Reinvention regular issues (2008-2014)

Figure 1: Distribution of authors for Reinvention regular issues (2008–2014)

The contribution from student researchers at the University of Warwick is tremendously valuable to Reinvention, and authors from Warwick have consistently featured in Reinvention over time, despite the increasing rate of article submission from other institutions. A broad range of faculties are represented – last year alone, Warwick students published articles on economics (Vanagas, 2013), international studies (Bass, 2013), medicine (Varian et al., 2013), history (Pratikaki, 2013) and social integration (Penn et al., 2013), reflecting the integration of undergraduate research philosophies throughout the university. Similar trends are observed for contributions from Monash University, which has been represented in Reinvention since long before joining the journal in 2012 as a full partner. Its students offer original and creative contributions, especially in explorations of history and society with international import. A philosophy of independent, student-guided research is fostered at Monash, in undergraduate research projects and course-integrated internships and placements. Unlike traditional, taught classes, these units often produce unexpected results or conclusions by semester's end – and it is precisely original, novel results that drive successful research articles.

Outside Reinvention's home institutions, a diverse range of undergraduate students are using the journal to establish themselves as researchers. For example, authors across the United Kingdom have made a major contribution to the articles published in Reinvention. The journal originated in the UK and Reinvention is actively promoted at the annual British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), and since 2011, has published special BCUR issues showcasing the national calibre of undergraduate research. This is enabled by strong academic and institutional support for undergraduate research in the UK, reflected by collaborative student-staff articles such as 'The Acculturation Process of Romanian Immigrants in the UK' (Pantiru and Barley, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2014).

Although articles by North American authors have been accepted for publication almost every year since the journal's inception, they have typically appeared in low numbers – one or two annually. This is despite a much longer history of undergraduate research in the region compared to the UK or Australia. In the USA, the Council on Undergraduate Research first convened 35 years ago, and has facilitated student research conferences since 1987. I do not suggest student authors in the USA and Canada are less interested in Reinvention: rather, the strength of existing North American outlets means that the journal operates in a much larger field of publications. Nonetheless, Reinvention has plenty to offer an American undergraduate researcher. The rigorous peer review all articles undergo ensures an exceptional standard of authorship, and in contrast to university-specific journals, Reinvention presents to a global audience – researchers with national and international ambitions are well suited to our publication. This year's International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) included panels at the University of Washington and Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY), with students from those institutions presenting live sessions with Monash University and the University of Warwick respectively.

Compared to the high availability of research outlets in North America, Australia is relatively under-served. There are only a handful of journals publishing undergraduate research, and only two major annual conferences. Despite this, only one article from an Australian institution other than Monash University has been published in the journal to date. I do not suggest Australian undergraduates are less capable of producing quality research. In fact, the Australian final-year Honours project often leads to publication in discipline-specific journals. Nonetheless, there remain many ungrasped opportunities for undergraduate articles.

We are pleased to see that Reinvention has achieved a high level of awareness in the global student body. Student researchers from universities in Asia are particularly well represented, and also featured strongly at ICUR thanks to video links to Monash Sunway, Singapore Management University and Nanyang Technological University. Regardless of origin or experience, all submitting authors receive feedback and development advice from the editorial team.

Undergraduate research from different disciplines

Figure 2 illustrates the relative contribution of authors from different faculties to Reinvention over the journal's history.

Figure 2: Relative contribution of authors from different faculties to Reinvention issues

Figure 2: Relative contribution of authors from different faculties to Reinvention issues

While science (defined as life, earth and physical sciences) articles comprise around one fifth of Reinvention's total output overall, this figure conflates separate disciplines including environmental science, chemistry and mathematics. The higher relative contribution to the journal from the arts, humanities and social sciences could be credited to the exploratory, discursive nature of undergraduate studies in those areas. By contrast, coursework in science is part of a protocol-based training system that emphasises training and methodologies over investigative opportunities. And while communication skills and practices are a much greater focus for a scientific education than in the past, the opportunity for extended writing is still not equal among disciplines. There are certainly valid reasons for this structure, the most fundamental of which is the issue of cost. Robust, valid science is expensive. Depending on a student's area of study, they may need access to scarce analytical equipment, require expensive chemical reagents, or need time collecting data in remote field locations. There are also practical constraints on laboratory access and staff supervision time. Further, sensitive areas such as studies on human subjects may be unsuitable for undergraduate research (Gallagher et al., 2014), despite students' desire for pre-career exposure to research. However, the benefits science undergraduates receive from independent research activities are clear, and important. Research encourages growth in knowledge, improves the prospects for future work, and fosters development of a professional identity (Hunter et al., 2006). This demonstrates the importance of enabling motivated students to undertake and publish research, regardless of discipline. Top-down support from teaching staff and executive staff has the potential to transform the scale of undergraduate research, but cannot be justified without matching effort from students. We must develop collegiate relationships with teaching staff, advocate for involvement in research, and request access to datasets. By attaching herself to existing projects to pursue ancillary questions, a student can overcome many of the financial hurdles mentioned above.

Summary of articles in Volume 7, Issue 2

This issue pushes Reinvention in new directions, attracting authors from previously unrepresented disciplines. Rachael Sanders (Hull School of Art and Design) presents her research article 'Continuous construction of a parafoil kite using seven layers', which applies an innovative method of textile construction and demonstrates the potential for significant improvement on current techniques. This article has equal application to textiles engineering and to sustainability; the reduction in materials costs also warrants attention from the commercial fashion industry, where customer interest in sustainable practices is high.

Further evidence of the high regard for Reinvention in the United States is present in the submission from Kristin Zuhone (Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania) entitled '"From Entitlement to Empowerment": How Narratives of Poverty Legitimated Policy Outcomes in the Era of American Welfare Reform'. This is a cogent, highly professional article, and we commend the author on her exhaustive research. Zuhone critiques the dominant political narratives of welfare reform in the United States, the 'underclass' and 'entrepreneurial poor'. This article analyses each from its philosophical underpinnings up through political action to their consequences for American society at large. A tremendously topical article, Zuhone's work can inform debates over welfare and government in the USA and worldwide.

Sam Williams (Department of Social Work, University of Portsmouth) truly demonstrates the value of supporting undergraduate research. His article, 'An Exploration of the Experiences of Fathers of Children with Disabilities', breaks new ground on a topic of considerable social and policy relevance. Williams has performed an innovative study using autobiographies and blogs that offers readers an intimate, honest and sensitive insight into experiences that would otherwise remain silenced. The voices of his subjects can speak to an audience well beyond workers in his discipline.

We are also pleased to include Steven Paul Keyte's review article 'Modified Newtonian Dynamics as a Solution to the Cosmic Mass Discrepancy Problem' (Faculty of Science, Monash University). This is a summary of a complex, academically contentious debate, and presents Keyte's case for reviewing the accumulating questions about our current models. With a snapshot of scientific progress to date, this article explores how we might understand fundamental drivers of universal structure.

And finally, following the compelling exposé of Ancient Roman toilet conduct in Volume 7 Issue 1, Reinvention continues to deliver insight into the complex traces of human history. In the article 'Attitudes Towards and Use of the Sling in Celtic Europe', author David Swan (Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick) investigates the link between warfare and cultural cachet among the Celts of Western Europe. Acknowledged as furious warriors by no less an authority than the all-conquering Julius Caesar, the Celts wielded sword, shield, sling and bow to wicked effect. Yet artwork, literature and archaeology show the deadliest part of the Celtic armoury was not the most celebrated. Swan examines contemporary diaries and modern discoveries to inform the pragmatic, societal and sacred drivers of an ancient culture.

This issue also includes paired reviews of Michael Billig's book Learn to Write Badly (How to Succeed in the Social Sciences), by student Fatima Hammad of the University of Warwick Law School and University of Warwick applied linguistics specialist Dr Gerard Sharpling. The reviews look at this entertaining book, which uses examples from a variety of disciplines to argue that academic writing – contrary to authors' intentions – impedes the transfer of ideas. He also argues that, despite increasing competition within academia, the quality of writing is worsening. This problem is common to students and staff, since we all rely on our writing either to show our progress, to share knowledge or to improve personal profiles. Billig identifies the human and institutional pressures that are fuelling a crisis in academic communication, and offers advice to all readers on how to improve.


List of figures

Figure 1: Distribution of authors for Reinvention regular issues (2008–2014)

Figure 2: Relative contribution of authors from different faculties to Reinvention issues

References

Bass, T. (2013), 'Freedom, Morality and Self-Love? Reinterpreting Rousseau's amour-propre as fundamental for the virtuous citizen,' Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (1), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/volume6issue1/bass, accessed 23 October 2014

Gallagher, C. T., L. J. McDonald and N. P. McCormack (2014), 'Undergraduate Research Involving Human Subjects Should not be Granted Ethical Approval Unless it is Likely to be of Publishable Quality', HEC forum 26 (2), 169–80

Hunter, A. B., S. L. Laursen and E. Seymour (2007), 'Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students' cognitive, personal, and professional development', Science Education, 91 (1), 36–74

Pantiru, S. A. and R. Barley (2014), 'The acculturation process of Romanian immigrants in Great Britain: A mixed methods study', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 7 (1), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume7issue1/pantiru/, accessed 23 October 2014

Penn, T., A. Podvorska and M. A. Segit (2013), 'Shared Foreignness: Student Experiences of Social Inclusion and Exclusion during Study Abroad', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (2), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/penn, accessed 23 October 2014

Pratikaki, V. (2013), 'A Comparative View of European and Japanese Cultures through a Study of their Mechanical Automata in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (2), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/pratikaki, accessed 23 October 2014

Vanagas, M. (2013), 'Border Effects Among EU Countries: Do National Identity and Cultural Differences Matter?', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (2), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/vanagas, accessed 23 October 2014

Varian, F., A.-M. Feeley and J. Coe (2013), 'Overcoming Barriers to Interprofessional Communication: How Can Situational Judgement Dilemmas Help?,' Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6 (2), available at http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume6issue2/varian, accessed 23 October 2014



To cite this paper please use the following details: Ziegler, T. (2014), 'A Global View of Undergraduate Research Reflected in Reinvention', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 7, Issue 2, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/archive/volume7issue2/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 at warwick dot ac dot uk.