Undergraduate Research

Students focusing on undergraduate research.

Early in the academic career, many classes challenge students to tackle intriguing topics and present in front of their peers. For example, in PSYC 203 (Introduction to Statistics for Psychology), students collected and analyzed their own data on topics such as “It’s my roommate’s fault: how stress is related to academic performance” and “Anxiety, is it in you? Gender and age differences in anxiety.”

The annual Freshman Communication Research Conference, held in conjunction with COMM 101 (Introduction to Communication), features topics selected by students such as body image, culture and identity, interpersonal and dating, new media and audiences, and religious communication and rhetoric.

Liberal Arts students have also published in Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. This issue includes pieces from Sociology major David Paul Strohecker ’09, International Studies major Tahni Joy Candelaria ’09, and International Studies major Jenny Russell ’12.

Many liberal arts students participate in Undergraduate Research Fellows, the most prestigious undergraduate research opportunity at Texas A&M. Fellows work with a faculty advisor on a two-semester research experience and publish a Honors thesis.

Research Collaboration between undergraduates and faculty

By working with research faculty, undergraduate students pursue opportunities in hands-on research early in their academic career. These opportunities grant students with further insight into pursuing higher degrees in their specific discipline and building academic relationships the will be beneficial to their research or career opportunities.

Samples from student-faculty research collaboration:

Center for the Study of First Americans

Working with Dr. Frank E. "Ted" Goebel, four undergraduate students earned valuable research experience by participating in the Alaskan archaeology field program in summer 2010. Tarah Marks and Angela Gore's experiences this summer were sponsored by the National Science Foundation's "Research Experience for Undergraduates" program. Gore excavated an interested locus of the Owl Ridge site, while Marks conducted a geoarchaeological study of Owl Ridge. These 2 programs are continuing during the 2010-2011 academic year, and will lead up to presentations at scientific conferences (e.g., the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology).

Kazakh

Anthropology

In the fall of 2009, anthropology major Kim Healy assisted Dr. Cynthia Werner with a project on the transnational migration of Mongolian Kazakhs. Healy assisted in preparing an exhibit for the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History by conducting research on the Mongolian Kazakh culture, selecting photos and design layout for the exhibit, and writing explanatory prose for the artifacts. Through this experience, Healy had the opportunity to learn about research methods in cultural anthropology, Kazakh culture, and museum exhibit curation.

Communication

Catherine Marr worked with Dr. Richard Street as a coding analyst for over three years during her undergraduate career. As a communication major, her work with Street challenged her to learn about the subtleties involved in patient care and communication. Her work with Street prepared Marr for her current career working for Physician Sales and Service, a medical practice distributor. Marr see her job as much more than selling the needles, syringes, table paper and gloves, but also helping doctors improve their level of patient care.

According to Marr, this previous job [with Street] “allowed me to understand the issues that patients deal with while taking this medication. I regularly recall those conversations I listened to between doctors and patients…It always brings me back to the purpose of my job. I work to make their lives easier, so they can take care of each patient according to their individual needs.”

Economics

The students in Associate Professor Brit Grosskopf’s undergraduate experimental course (Econ 440) have the opportunity to participate in actual experiments run within one of the best economics experimental laboratories in the country. They learn how to design and to implement experiments from one of the top young experimental researchers. This type of learning experience cannot be replicated at a university that lacks up-to-date research capital and that doesn't have research active faculty. In addition to the course benefits above, Brit notes that "as part of the experimental course (not for credit) but just for my own research I often "pilot" some ideas on them. Recently Yu Zhang and I tried to elicit risk preferences and time discounting. So we ran a few questionnaires/choice scenarios with real payoffs on my class.”

English

In the fall of 2009, Alesha Olsen worked with Professor Don Dickson editing a volume of John Donne. Olsen states that with a PhD as her end goal, working with Dickson allowed her to experience the type of work that professors manage in addition to teaching responsibilities. In her final semester of a Master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Houston, Olsen notes that her undergraduate research experience remain applicable in her studies. Olsen states that in “discussing the history and development of books and different printing methods. I was able to bring in my experiences and knowledge of manuscript poets (John Donne), as well as the process of determining textual variants between manuscripts and the importance of those variants (the main focus of my work as a UROP).”

Glasscock Center for Humanities Research funding

The Glasscock Center made an undergraduate research award to Anastasia Gilmer for a directed-studies project with Dr. Kelly Graf, research assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans. Gilmer performed archaeological fieldwork at the Bonneville Estates Rockshelter in Elko County, Nevada. Having completed the fieldwork, she and Dr. Graf presented a jointly authored paper. In her own words, Anastasia recounts that “I learned how to conduct and present research as well as how to interact in a professional setting. It sealed my love of research and my quest to eventually join the academic community. Additionally, multiple doors were opened for me though this project, everything ranging from graduate school to further research opportunities.”

Hispanic Studies

Elena Tillman took an advanced undergraduate seminar with Professor Eduardo Urbina on Miguel de Cervantes, and was recruited to work on the Cervantes Project in summer 2009. The project had National Endowment for the Humanities funding. Ms. Tillman worked on image processing regarding Don Quixote’s iconography, and continued work in 2009-2010, when she received training and helped in the digitalization of the illustrated editions of Don Quijote in Cushing Memorial Library. During her last semester as an undergraduate student Tillman prepared entries and helped produce the index for the printed catalog of the Urbina-Cushing Cervantes Collection. She is identified as an Editorial Assistant in the book that will appear presently. She was funded for all this by the Cervantes Chair.

Performance Studies

Performance Studies

Assistant Professor Kirsten Pullen’s work on discursive constructions of the actress in key performance genres (e.g., realism, burlesque, ensemble performance) informs her teaching of theatre history and her work as director of co-curricular THAR mainstage shows. She uses performance per se as a research tool, in addition to conventional archival resources. Her production of The Trojan Women included this research, which she used to develop the ensemble for the show. Theatre arts major Elizabeth Melton argued that her work in Trojan Women gave her a unique combination of performance per se and performance as strategy of scholarly inquiry, equipping her for a highly competitive internship with the University of Delaware's Theatre Training Program in spring 2011. She will work with Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck on her new play, O Beautiful, premiering in April 2011.

Psychology

Mindy Bergman, industrial-organizational psychology, worked with undergraduate Jackie Chen a research project titled "bilingualism in the workplace" that was supported by a grant from Race and Ethnic Studies Institute. It involved conducting interviews with bilingual workers about their workplace experiences speaking English and/or a different language (usually Spanish). Jackie was involved in every aspect of the project, ranging from developing the interview protocol to conducting interviews to coding the transcripts. She presented her research in a poster at SWPA in April 2009. She has since become a Master’s student in organizational communication and is considering a PhD. This project allowed Chen to see to conduct research in psychology and the social sciences in general, confirming that she was interested in research. Second, she got to experience a non-experimental, non-quantitative research design, which opened her eyes to a different way of thinking about research questions. Because of this project, she became interested in organizational communication and therefore found her way to COMM for her masters.

Sociology

Meg Piwonka did criminological research with Professor Holly Foster. She worked on two of Dr. Foster’s projects, one on children’s exposure to parental imprisonment, and one on children’s exposure to violence. She did a systematic review of the literature on parental imprisonment analyzing the prevalence and merits of differing research methods in the field. She also did fieldwork in Bryan with the children of incarcerated parents. She was accepted to the Criminology Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her graduate advisor noted that her field and research experience were the determining factors in getting her admitted to the program.