Saturday, December 20, 2014

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Peers, Associate Provost Encourage Students to Get Early Start in Research

Members of the University of Virginia’s Undergraduate Research Network and undergraduate students from several of U.Va.’s schools gathered Monday in the OpenGrounds Studio to talk research with Archie Holmes, U.Va.’s newly appointed associate provost. They gained insight into the beginning steps of research and how students can become valuable resources to one another in pursuing research opportunities.

At Monday’s event, students who are involved in research had the opportunity to discuss their successes and challenges, while students interested in the early steps of the research journey gained insight into where they should begin.

Holmes discussed research possibilities for students from various disciplines, including research through independent study, distinguished majors programs and opportunities available through the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

When fourth-year student Kevin Lambert expressed concern that it is too late for him to get involved in research, Holmes disagreed, noting that independent study provides the opportunity for upperclass students to get involved in research with faculty members while receiving academic credit. He noted that the skills that research provides – such as defining issues, solving problems and presenting results to a broad audience – are skills that every sector of the job market is interested in acquiring.

Holmes also sought to dispel many myths associated with research opportunities.

“One of them is that you have to have done lots of classwork to get involved in research. I think that is a huge myth,” he said, adding that even he lacks classroom knowledge in much of his own research.

Another myth: A student must have good grades in order to be considered by professors to participate in research. “Just because you can answer questions out of a book does not mean that you can figure out a question that nobody has an answer to,” Holmes said.

The Undergraduate Research Network provides a resource for students seeking to get involved in research. The organization focuses on two main goals, said Nick Lee, the group’s workshops chair: “Getting students involved in research and keeping students involved in research.”

The network organizes an annual research and scholarship week, holds office hours with student advisers, offers peer-mentoring programs and publishes “The Oculus,” a multidisciplinary journal of student research.

While the network’s resources are available to students through their fourth year, Lee said it “hopes to plant the seed into younger students’ minds that research is a viable opportunity, especially if you get involved early.”

Holmes agreed. “A lot of students will wait until late in their academic career to get involved in research, but I would tell you to get involved early,” he said. “Get in there, get involved.”

Following Monday’s discussion with Holmes, architecture professor John Quale challenged students to take on a case study outside many of their comfort zones: come up with energy-efficient ways to respond to climate change. He suggested that students should not focus on what they consider to be achievable, but instead they should consider where they can create the largest impact – implying that all research should begin with a possibility of ideas, rather than limitations.

Working in groups of four, students came up with solutions ranging from planting trees to altering emissions policies and tracking individuals’ carbon dioxide output.

Case studies such as these confirm that research teaches students what the classroom cannot, providing a “really good supplement for [students] undergraduate education” Holmes said.

“[It teaches you] how to teach yourself and learn how to get around problems,” he said.

by Ashley Patterson

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