I was once quoted the inspiring statistic that all human knowledge doubles every ten years. Thus, I realized, soon after graduation a lot of what I know will be obsolete. Most of my friends and family wonder why I spend so much time taking in oodles of knowledge in pursuit of a bachelor degree. I tell them, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. At university, I have learned how to learn. Completing research projects is not only helpful, it is necessary for my undergraduate academic growth.
If one believes that learning is best accomplished by deconstruction and synthesis of knowledge, research can then be considered the natural extension of classroom learning. Research provides the opportunity to break down the theoretical framework learned in class, organize it in a way that is personal and useful, and utilize the knowledge to solve problems. People who have done research understand their textbook knowledge on a deeper level, and have a greater appreciation for it. More importantly, the skills of critical thinking and independent learning are transferable to all areas of life.
Research is a necessary part of the undergraduate education. Furthermore, it is almost an unofficial prerequisite for acceptance into graduate studies, and success beyond.
For years, other universities have run undergraduate research programs, recognizing the resource that undergraduate students provide to their overall research efforts, and the importance of training new researchers early.
Recently, UBC created its own Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Program (MURP), housed within the Office of the Vice President Research. Together with the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference (MURC), a separate entity offered by the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth, MURP provides undergraduate students with resources and guidance to begin successful research careers.
MURP was created by Dr. Ingrid Price and Jackie Stewart in September 2004. A new addition to the team, Dr. Sonja Embree is coordinating the 2005/2006 offering of the program. MURP is a free extra curricular program open to all students, which provides training in research skills such as critical thinking, grant writing, and oral presentation. MURP provides information and guidance needed to find a faculty sponsor and develop a research project. Further, MURP provides opportunities to meet and share with other undergraduate researchers, opportunities to learn from established researchers, and information about graduate school. “MURP is a support mechanism for students and it is designed to fill in the gaps,” says Jackie Stewart. “MURP is flexible, so students may pick and choose what they need to develop their skills.”
MURC is a conference at which all undergraduate students can showcase their research projects in both verbal presentation and poster format. For both MURP and non-MURP students, it is the culmination of a year of research. Last year, there were about a hundred presenters from both Arts and Science backgrounds. “We hear a lot from folks who go to the conference for the first time about how impressed they are with the caliber of the projects and how professional the presenters are,” says Desiree Mou (who co-coordinates the MURC with Jennifer Jasper, both from UBC’s Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth).
The name multidisciplinary is very important. Both MURP and MURC are open, and useful, to students of all disciplines. “Currently, we have students studying biochemistry; engineering; philosophy; economics; religious studies; medicine; and earth and ocean sciences, to name only a few,” says Embree. Stewart adds, “We want students to get exposed to a variety of research methodologies.” And according to Mou, “Making the conference multidisciplinary gives them an “opportunity” to chat with folks outside their discipline and flex their communication skills with people who are probably not familiar with the jargon specific to their discipline.”
Communication, especially across disciplines, is vitally important for the generation of new ideas, public support, and research funding. “Learning how to get and keep people’s attention in a presentation is one of my most important skills,” says Stewart. Mou says, “Research is great, but if we can’t tell people what we’re doing and why it’s important, it may not make as big an impact. Research may become divorced from some of the useful applications that might have been made of it.” Both MURP and MURC provide excellent opportunities to hone cross disciplinary communication skills.
As a former participant of both MURP and MURC, I found the emphases of these tandem programs to be very useful in all areas of life. Ultimately, this led to a new perspective, and a new way of thinking.
“Speaking from my own experience, undergraduate research gave me insight into my own strengths and weaknesses. Being an education experience that is much more applied and “real” than sitting in lectures and writing exams, research allowed me to make and, more importantly, learn from my mistakes.” – Jackie Stewart
“Research is a big part of what UBC does, yet some students never really experience it. Working on a project can provide a framework into which you can fit all of the pieces that you’re learning in classes and elsewhere.” – Desiree Mou
“Whether it’s the chemical compounds of paper, reflecting on the issue of representation or exploring the genetic evolution of a sea animal, everything we study has implications for our experience of the world, each other and ourselves. Undergraduate research contributes to this understanding of the link between theory and practice.” – Sonja Embree