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Editorial: A step forwards in British undergraduate research

Alexander Freer, Editor of Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, and Stuart Hampton-Reeves, Chair of BCUR Steering Group


This year the inaugural British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) was held in Preston, at the University of Central Lancashire. The conference spanned two days, featuring four simultaneous sessions of oral presentations as well as four poster sessions, and students presented the results of research carried out as part of final-year projects, independent research and staff-student collaborations. The conference represents an important step forwards in the scope and ambition of British undergraduate research initiatives, and the conference team are particularly pleased that Reinvention is publishing, on behalf of BCUR, a selection of papers arising from the conference presentations. Reinvention is committed both to supporting and promoting undergraduate research, and to furthering its dissemination. The greater part of research undertaken by undergraduates goes unacknowledged, and we hope this publication can play a part in this national effort to further research-led teaching.

While BCUR is the first British conference of its kind, it follows the precedent of the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in the United States. The British conference was directly inspired by a visit to the National Conference of Undergraduate Research in Montana by staff and students from the University of Central Lancashire in 2010. NCUR is now in its 25th year and attracts 4000 presenting students every year.

The British conference aspires to create an institution as successful and long-lasting as NCUR, but with its own identity. The British conference began with video messages of support from Nancy Hensel (from the Council of Undergraduate Research) and William Campbell (President-elect of NCUR). BCUR is also following in a developing British tradition of undergraduate teaching through research, originating in the work of academics such as Mick Healey and Alan Jenkins, and promoted by a number of Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, including the Reinvention Centre, which oversaw the founding of this journal. We hope that this initiative continues to strengthen cross-institution support for undergraduate research. The conference began with an initial steering group of around twenty universities, which has since expanded to over fifty.

The 2011 conference in Preston was attended by over 150 students, representing 50 universities of considerable geographic diversity. Research was presented through poster presentations, spoken papers, performance pieces and workshops, and involved a broad range of academic disciplines, and several interdisciplinary projects. The research presented in this special issue of Reinvention is derived directly from the oral presentations given at the conference. Some of our authors have written up these presentations as formal papers, and others have chosen to present their work in a more involving, informal style, as they presented in person. Since these proceedings are in written form, we will be referring to the researchers as 'authors', rather than 'presenters', and discussing the authors of the written papers, who are not necessarily the same people who presented at the conference.

In all the papers we are publishing, the authors have sought to produce a novel perspective on a research question. In some cases, authors seek to challenge popular beliefs by introducing new primary data or theoretical insights. Laura Stephens (Southampton Solent University) contends that the female torturer character in recent torture-horror films gives us reason to question the dominant masculine presentation of torture in the genre, and Michael Duffy (University of Winchester) brings theories of performativity to his discussion of Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. By undertaking original primary research, current practices can be tested and improved, and several authors have used their research to offer new insight into professional practice. Lloyd Gemson (University of Central Lancashire) presents a collaborative paper detailing an audit of ME patients' responses to cognitive behavioural therapy, while Dee Johnson (University of Chester) details the results of primary research conducted on lichen growth in the Jostedal, Norway, and considers its implications for the practice of lichenometry. Paul McGivern and Nathalie Noret (York St. John University) present an analysis of risk in the emerging field of adolescent e-safety. In addition, several authors have sought to analyse both an academic question and its reception in culture, the media or the academy: Sarah Wallace (University of Reading) considers the changing cultural attitudes towards the mythological character of Medusa, while Scarlett Redman (University of Leeds) discusses and analyses the results of an interview project with two UK sex workers, and considers how they can problematise the portrayals of the sex industry which prevail in the UK media. Finally, Patrick Holmes (University of Reading) returns to the ancient texts regarding the first Catilinarian conspiracy in order to question modern interpretation and suggest Catiline's guilt.

We hope that these papers give a small but useful sample of the research presented at the inaugural BCUR, and look forward to further conferences in the future. The success of BCUR can, we hope, involve more students and more universities in research-based teaching and learning, to the benefit of the whole of the UK Higher Education sector. Finally, we look forward to BCUR 2012, which is to be held at the University of Warwick on 19th-20th March 2012; further details will be available at in autumn 2011.


To cite this paper please use the following details: Freer, A. and S. Hampton-Reeves (2011), 'Editorial: A step forwards in British undergraduate research', Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2011 Special Issue, 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.