Innovative Undergraduate Research Workshop at Centre effectively combines individual, collaborative research

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Humanities, News, Research 04 Sep 2014

Hum Workshop PSCentre College broke new ground in its approach to undergraduate research with the first-ever Summer Undergraduate Research Workshop in the Humanities and Social Sciences, funded in part by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

This unique workshop, which took place August 18-29, aimed to extend students’ knowledge of basic research practices and methodologies, as well as to guide them in their research and writing on topics of their own choosing within the humanities and social sciences. Five students participated in the workshop, led by Assistant Professor of History John Harney (pictured above, left) and Visiting Assistant Professor of English George Phillips (pictured above, right).

Undergraduate research currently takes two primary forms: the conventional collaborative model, in which students work on professors’ research with them, and the faculty-guided model, in which research is overseen by faculty but student-designed.

Centre offers both types of research opportunities to students, but Phillips and Harney sought to chart a new course for undergraduate research by creating a workshop that capitalized on the strengths of both models.

“All of us, faculty and students, have individually designed projects that we’re trying to complete in two weeks,” explains Phillips. “At the same time, we are in this collaborative environment, where we can share ideas and approaches and discoveries, and help each other through the process.”

“Undergraduate research is still being defined,” adds Harney. “But it’s exciting that this may be what undergraduate research in our fields looks like in the future.”

Both professors were certain that Centre’s close-knit academic community made it the ideal place to test out a workshop of this kind.

“The reason Centre is the perfect place for something like this is that students and faculty are already used to working so closely together,” says Phillips. “So when students in the workshop had questions about their research that Professor Harney and I were not equipped to answer, other professors were readily available to ask. In a matter of hours, there was an answer. I can’t think of a lot of other places where you can do that.”

Participating students confirmed that the innovative structure of the workshop was highly effective.

Beth Jun ’15, whose research focused on the westernization of the Korean music industry, praised the workshop’s collaborative component.

“Even when we worked individually, we all researched and wrote in the same space,” she explained. “We also had the chance to review each other’s papers and offer feedback.”

Scott Olsen, a senior English major whose project examined the influence of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, believes that the workshop struck the proper balance of rigorousness and flexibility.

“It was structured enough that we couldn’t be lazy, but free enough that our own individual writing processes could thrive,” he says.

Olsen adds, “The professors have been really good about making us think of them as peers rather than superiors.”

Marit Gookin ’15, who analyzed representations of medieval women in modern film for her project, agrees that Harney and Phillips were extremely approachable.

“The professors were super encouraging and really willing to help us find resources,” says Gookin. “It was a less formal professor-student relationship than something you would have in the classroom.”

Gookin also notes that while multiple classes during a normal term must split students’ focus, this workshop afforded them the opportunity to go in-depth on a topic in which they were highly invested.

“We had this two-week period in which we were just writers of this paper,” she says.  “It was so helpful to be able to focus on one thing, and not worry about writing five other papers.”

Eve Berry ’17, the workshop’s youngest participant, most appreciated the ways in which the workshop may positively impact her future.

“I think this will really help me with writing papers as well as understanding the research and the publication process,” says Berry, whose project investigated the effects of consumerism in manga on Japanese society.

Phillips and Harney hope the students gained a variety of skills that can be broadly applied to their academic and personal goals.

“We wanted the workshop to be relevant in the context of their lives,” says Phillips. “We are hoping that it helps them make progress in their post-graduate decisions.”

Ultimately, the success of this inaugural run suggests not only that the workshop will be offered again at Centre but also that it could potentially shape the course of undergraduate research.

by Caitlan Cole