The Undergraduate Research Support Scheme delivers against a number of the University’s strategic goals. It enables Warwick, as a Russell Group institution, to showcase our research capacity, the benefits of this for our students and the linkages to the University Research Strategy. Supporting undergraduate students to experience the research process is also central objective of the Education Strategy which identifies an aim to expand extra-curricula opportunities for students to contribute to Warwick’s research culture, postgraduate talent pipeline, and the University’s work experience and placement portfolio by increasing the numbers of students participating in URSS.
In Student Opportunity we have an aspiration to re-shape student research opportunities to ensure they are accessible to all students and, critically, ensure that all students engage with research to enjoy intellectual stretch, work independently, reach beyond the boundaries of their curriculum and challenge their critical abilities. Offering students extra-curricular opportunities to engage in research is one means to achieve this. This comes with a responsibility to address inequalities of opportunity for students relating to financial, social, cultural, religious or other factors, for instance through targeted funding, international placement, preparation and other support.
The URSS scheme offers 6-10 week summer research projects based in academic departments for students who develop a research project proposal which is supported by an appropriately-qualified academic supervisor. Whilst the majority of applications will be to pursue a project based on campus, some will be focussed on international topics or be conducted overseas. Students may apply for funding against reasonable costs including reasonable travel and subsistence, of up to £1k for a UK-based project and up to £1.5k for an internationally-based project. Applications are judged by a Review Board comprising project reviewers drawn from across academic departments and professional services. In the last 12 months, significant efforts have been made to open the application period earlier in the year and offer additional support and guidance relating to the application process, including through face-to-face drop-in sessions. Such measures have been intended to encourage applications from WP students who have traditionally been underrepresented on the URSS. Work has also been undertaken to enhance the sense of cohort experience for students enrolled from the Faculty of Arts, which typically has smaller numbers of awardees working to individual supervisors rather than an experience embedded in a research group or lab as offered in Sciences.
The URSS scheme provides a highly supportive environment for students to develop research skills. They receive mentoring, skills training and funding for summer research projects, many of which are undertaken abroad, thereby also enabling students to stretch their learning, broaden their understanding of other countries and cultures and enhance their intercultural skills. Following increased international interest in Warwick’s approach to students learning beyond the boundaries of research, an exchange scheme for students with Hong Kong University on student research placements was agreed.
Student engagement in research really challenges students’ skills and abilities and offers intellectual stretch. Whilst 29% of our student population achieves a First Class Honours degree, for URSS project students the proportion is 54%. Feedback from Warwick’s TEF 3 outcome statement noted; “a highly valued culture of research-stimulated learning that provides challenge to students, illustrated by the example of impact achieved by the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme.”
The URSS is also providing a potentially fruitful point of intersection with institutional Engagement goals, including working collaboratively on the City of Culture initiative and opportunities that will become available to students over the next 12-24 months. Conversations are already well underway with Professor Jackie Hodgson, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research), closely involved in City of Culture work, about channelling some URSS projects into research on City of Culture; it is likely that a substantial number of opportunities will be associated with this exciting development in summer 2021 and 2022.
In 2022, Warwick will host the International Conference of Undergraduate Research, (ICUR), the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) and the World Congress on Undergraduate Research (WCUR). Warwick expects to welcome >1,000 students from across the global to take part in these specific events focussed on research at undergraduate level. Our strategic aim is to use our existing and highly regarded URSS scheme to help encourage an increasing proportion of Warwick undergraduates to take part in during 2022.
1074 students have benefitted from URSS awards since 2014; a further 212 awards have just been made for summer 2020. Student feedback is typically enthusiastic about the often life-changing opportunities and new horizons opened up through the scheme.
Tanyaradzwa Kasinganeti, Global Sustainable Development
URSS participant 2020
This year I successfully applied to the scheme, and I’m going to be completing a URSS project in Melbourne, Australia with Monash University in August.
This, however, is not my first time applying to the scheme. I initially applied in my first year. Though I was rejected then, I am grateful that it was this year that I was successful, as the time has enabled me to take time to develop more as a person. Subsequently, I’ve been able really hone in on how my personal and professional interests converge, which has been really valuable for me.
I saw the URSS as an opportunity to explore interests further that I had encountered relatively late in my degree. Additionally, the scheme has presented itself as an opportunity to utilise the many contacts that I have gathered in my time at Warwick and my time abroad at Monash. I believe it will be a nicer, gradual transition into the professional world than starting a job straight away.
Above all, I’m hoping that this experience will strengthen my independent field research abilities, as well as give me a platform to experiment without a deep worry of consequence. I’m very grateful to Warwick and the Undergraduate Research Support Scheme for their assistance and the opportunity to explore my interests and improve my CV!
Rohan Gopalakrishnan, Economics
URSS participant 2019
When I first came to Warwick, I remember feeling quite intimidated by the achievements and backgrounds of others on my course. Having come from a state school, some students had parents working in the EU or had got the highest GCSE’s nationally, and this seemed very scary to me.
The URSS for me represented an unbelievable experience to go to another country and conduct a research project that I had come up with myself.
Coming back to university, after the project, I didn’t outwardly feel different. And that was the amazing thing! I presented at the International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR), an opportunity that would have initially terrified me, and I presented without much issue or nervousness.
The people who I was initially intimidated of are now amazed when I recount at the experiences I’ve had in Hong Kong, especially given the political unrest.
All in all it was a truly amazing experience, and I would recommend the URSS to any student looking to broaden their horizons.