Dacia Charlesworth remembers her first research presentation well. And the memories aren’t great.
She was peppered with aggressive questions, and it was more competitive than cordial. So when Charlesworth, Butler University’s Director of Undergraduate Research and Prestigious Scholarships, took the reins of the Undergraduate Research Conference four years ago, she was determined to make it as welcoming as possible—both for savvy researchers and those just starting out.
“We want to ensure the URC is a stepping stone for students when it comes to introducing them to the academic world of research, but we also want to make sure it is credible,” she says. “Both of these goals are integral to our mission as a University when it comes to research in addition to this conference. We want to make sure we provide a place for all students with varying levels of interest in research, while also producing legitimate work.”
The URC will kick off for the 31st time on April 12 at Butler. There will be 473 total presentations representing 27 academic disciplines. For the first time, the conference had two international submissions—one from Saudi Arabia and one from Canada—and representatives from 23 states will flock to Indianapolis to present their research.
But more than the numbers, Charlesworth says, it all goes back to the mission. When she took over the URC she was surprised to learn that it was open submission, meaning everything that is submitted is accepted. She wanted to enhance the conference’s credibility.
So, the competitive paper division was added two years ago in an effort to mimic the process of sending a journal article out for review. Students submit their papers, and a panel of faculty members review the work, then select the top four papers.
“But I also remembered my first research experience, and how terrifying it was,” she says. “I wanted to make sure we were simultaneously creating a place at the URC for support for an inexperienced researcher who is in the beginning stages of the research process, but has yet to fully develop that project.”
To compliment the poster presentations, oral presentations, and competitive paper division, research roundtables were also added. The roundtables serve as an opportunity for students to present ideas they have for research projects, and then a panel will give them feedback.
This year, Assistant Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt will have 13 students present at the URC. Four of them will be at the research roundtable presenting proposals for potential projects.
“This gives them a unique opportunity to test some of their ideas and thoughts prior to jumping into the research,” he says. “They are early in their research careers, so to get some direction and helpful feedback is crucial.”
Shufeldt, who says the URC is one of his favorite days of the year, right up there with graduation, gives extra credit to students who are not presenting but who go to URC presentations to watch. He, like many professors, cancels classes, too.
Attending the URC as a spectator, Shufeldt says, can spark a student’s interest in research. Presenting in front of others also reinforces the importance of being able to explain one’s work. Discovering something critical is important, he says, but if no one knows about it, or if it’s importance is hard to convey, what is the point?
“If no one reads the research I do, what was the purpose of it all?” Shufeldt says. “This event is so critical because it is not just students doing work to get a good grade. It is all about that next step—building knowledge, contributing to the understanding of the world, presenting new problems and new ways to think about the world, and developing professionally.”