Research Opportunities for Honors Students
The Honors College encourages student research both in and out of the classroom. Research is at the heart of intellectual inquiry, and through research projects, you will develop skills that you'll use throughout your life, no matter what you decide to take on next.
As the website for one major medical school explains about the advantages for applicants who have done undergraduate research, "orientation toward lifelong learning, independent thinking, and decision-making are attributes of an excellent physician. It is to your advantage to participate in activities (e.g., independent study projects, research projects, and courses requiring active involvement, etc.) that will foster those attributes."
Writing abstracts is a valuable skill to master. Wherever you end up after college, you will be asked to describe ideas and projects for specific audiences. Your goal might be to land a job, secure funding, win contracts, or get a promotion, but the skills you'll use are the same. The trick is to master the art of describing your project as if it's completed, even though it may exist in your imagination or in the form of a rough outline.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Know your audience. If you are trying to appeal to a specific audience that expects a certain format and vocabulary, model your abstract on examples from your particular discipline. If you will be presenting to a more interdisciplinary group—like the national Honors conference—avoid using too much jargon and remember that you are writing for a non-specialist audience.
- Contextualize your work. Show how your work relates to other work in the field. Academic work functions on one level as a continuing conversation in which writers and thinkers are always measuring their ideas against those of their peers. You might use a quotation from a prominent person in the discipline to show where your work fits into the larger conversation. If you take issue with the work of another writer, show specifically how your project departs from that work. You can also provide historical, cultural, or theoretical contexts that might shed light on your approach.
- Balance specifics and bigger issues. Try to work back and forth between the details of your project and some of the larger implications of your work. At some point, you do need to demonstrate what is important or significant about your work.
- Pay attention to your writing. All of the writing instruction you have received over the years really counts here. Write concisely (you usually only have 100–250 words to get your point across). Use strong verbs that assert your point vigorously (except in disciplines where it is more appropriate to employ passive voice). Be direct and avoid verbosity (instead of writing, "I hope to show through my study that the acidity levels in the stream might have risen," write "This study demonstrates causes and effects of increases in acidity rates"). Be as specific as possible. And revise, revise, revise.
- Don't procrastinate. The best abstracts seem like effortless accounts of thrilling projects delivered with the greatest of ease. But getting there takes an enormous amount of thought and work up front. As the writer George Plimpton once famously remarked about giving public speeches, "the more you sweat in preparation, the less you'll sweat in delivery." The better prepared you are, the more confidently you'll be able to speak about your work.
- Ask for help. Seeking advice isn't a sign of weakness. In fact, all academics have colleagues read their writing—it's an outgrowth of the mentoring system that your professors took part in when they attended graduate school. Reach out to someone in your field to see if they will review a draft of your abstract.
Westminster College is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), which sponsors an annual convention attended by about 2,000 undergraduates, professors, and administrators from Honors programs around the country. The Honors College typically sends 4–8 students to the convention each year to participate in workshops, attend sessions, and enjoy the many entertaining diversions of the host city.
If you're interested in attending, contact the dean of the Honors College, and read the following guidelines for submitting a proposal:
- Attending NCHC costs around $1,000 per student and the Honors College does its best to underwrite much of that cost for students whose papers are accepted. The Honors College always pays the $450 conference registration fee, and offsets as much of the flight and hotel costs as possible.
- There are three primary ways for students to participate in NCHC:
- A poster session on your own research (i.e. "Biodiversity in the Great Salt Lake").
- A student panel discussing some aspect of Honors education or administration (i.e. "The New Honors Orientation Program at Westminster College" or "Using Vulnerability in the Honors Classroom").
- An interdisciplinary student research panel on which you summarize a high-level research paper in 15 minutes (i.e. "Gender in Desire in T.S. Eliot").
- Honors College Dean Richard Badenhausen must sign off on your project by sending NCHC an email certifying your submission, so let him know what you are up to—and don't wait until the final deadline to do it, otherwise, NCHC will not accept your submission.
- The NCHC runs hundreds of sessions, so be as creative as you want. You can propose a session on your own, with other students, or even with a professor. If you have any idea for a session and are looking for fellow panelists for your proposal, run your idea by other Honors students.
- If you want to talk about your idea or need help writing your abstract, email Richard at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is happy to help you throughout the process.
- Submission of a proposal is your acknowledgment that you will attend NCHC if your application is accepted.
The emphasis on undergraduate research is one of the distinguishing features of Westminster's Honors College. Many students publish their research in academic journals that feature undergraduate writing. You should work with your advisor to target appropriate outlets for your written work, as well as consult with the Honors College dean for guidance on submitting your work.
Selection of Journals
The following brief selection of titles gives you a sense of what types of journals accept submissions from undergraduates. Each journal website contains information about submission policies, content, style, and deadlines.
UReCA: The NCHC Undergraduate Journal of Research and Creative Activity
UReCA is the only national undergraduate journal that is not affiliated with a specific organization. It publishes work in all disciplinary fields and most creative areas. The selection process is quite rigorous, as UReCA publishes less than 20% of submitted works, though Westminster Honors College students have had their work appear here.
The Dualist: Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy
Created by the undergraduates of Stanford University in 1994, The Dualist publishes undergraduate research on topics of philosophical interest in an annual issue each spring/summer. The editors accept submissions until January and old issues are available for viewing online.
Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review
The Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review journal has been publishing original and scholarly refereed papers from undergraduates in all academic fields since 1979. It is published by the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh.
Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Journal
The electronic-based Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Journal publishes work by undergraduates on any topic related to math. Articles must be recommended by a mathematician familiar with the writer's work.
Scribendi is an annual journal published by the Honors program at the University of New Mexico, which solicits work in the areas of prose fiction, essay, poetry, visual art, and photography from students attending schools that belong to the Western Regional Honors Council (WRHC). Westminster College is a member of the WRHC, and Honors College students have regularly been published in this journal and won the editors' awards for best work in the issue.
Undergraduate Economic Review
The Undergraduate Economic Review is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at promoting high quality undergraduate research. It is supported by the department of economics and the Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Many scholarship and fellowship opportunities exist for students with outstanding academic records. These awards are not administered through Westminster College's financial aid office; rather, they are national and international scholarships that are suitable for students interested in applying for the rigorous competitions that tie in to their undergraduate, graduate, or professional interests. It is best to start thinking about these competitions a few semesters before applying.
The Fellowship Advising Office is housed in the Honors College and directed by Alicia Cunningham-Bryant, whose office is in Gore 115. Alicia is available to help guide all Westminster students through the fellowship process.
Students should work closely with their advisors because most scholarships require institutional nomination or support. Because of their academic preparation, experience in seminars that emphasize intensive study and discussion of texts, and extensive work on their writing skills, Honors students often make excellent candidates for these competitions.
The Honors College makes two $3,750 Independent Summer Research Awards annually. Typically, many other Honors students receive summer funding from the college through their Honors research applications. These awards are designed to support Honors students who are conducting high-level research during the summer in lieu of a full-time summer job. These projects should lead to conference papers or publishable work. The application process takes place each year during the spring, and is administered by the Honors Council. Application forms are available in Nunemaker Place. The Honors College also defrays costs for students presenting research at conferences.