Undergraduate Research at Puget Sound: A Brief Overview

In my last blog I spent a considerable amount of time discussing summer research grants, but I thought that I would take the time to  revisit student research at Puget Sound for a few reasons.

(My previous discussion of summer research grants, among other topics, can be found here: http://blogs.ups.edu/studentlife/2012/04/02/registration-summer-research-internship-applications-spring-semester-at-ups/)

Student research is a huge part of the undergraduate experience at Puget Sound. Whether students are involved in senior thesis projects, audience members at senior showcases, or authors of original scholarly articles and theses, almost the entire Puget Sound student body is involved – indirectly or directly- in undergraduate research at some point.

One of the reasons that I chose to attend a liberal arts school, and particularly Puget Sound, is because of its focus on undergraduate research. Ironically, large research institutions do not let undergraduates do much of their own research because professors are so busy working with graduate students and working on their own research. Thus, although research institutions may be famous for large science centers or pieces of equipment, undergraduates rarely get to work directly with any of these.

Because there are no graduate students at Puget Sound (except for UPS’s separate masters programs), undergraduates take the place of graduate students when working with professors on research, which means that they contribute substantially to various research projects. It is fairly common for undergraduates to author or co-author peer-reviewed journal articles based on their research project or theses. In fact, research grants generally mandate that students present their work in the format of their discipline’s peer-reviewed journal to prepare for publication.

That brings me to another reason that I wanted to blog about students research: the numerous opportunities to present student research at Puget Sound. This past weekend, I attended the Phi Sigma Undergraduate Research Symposium in the sciences, and I left thoroughly impressed by the quality and volume of undergraduate research at Puget Sound. The Symposium featured a series of about thirty ten-minute, “rapid-fire” talks by students about their research projects. Most of the presenters were seniors presenting thesis research that they conducted over the summer, but there were also some junior presenters. The projects ranged from plant biology to computational biochemistry, and what amazed me about the conference was not only the quality of student research, but also the vast number of opportunities available to students to conduct research in a variety of areas. Your imagination is really the limit when it comes to conducting research at Puget Sound.

Not only does Puget Sound present a variety of scientific research opportunities, but there are also numerous opportunities to conduct research in the arts and humanities. Puget Sound is doing some truly novel things when it comes to presenting student research. The Philosophy Department just hosted a national undergraduate research conference, which is one of the few of its kind that I have heard of hosted at a liberal arts college. The conference included eight presentations from students across the country as well as a keynote address entitled: “Rule Over None: Social Equality and the Value of Democracy” delivered by Prof. Niko Kolodny of UC Berkeley.

A variety of artistic research presentations are also going on right now in the arts at Puget Sound. Puget Sound’s Kittredge Art Gallery’s senior exhibit opens tomorrow (http://www.pugetsound.edu/news-and-events/campus-news/details/1008/). It features the work of 19 seniors who are graduating with degrees in studio art, and it’s free and open to the public. The Music Department is also having its end-of-year recital series, which involves substantial performances by seniors (and some juniors) on their respective instruments in the Schneebeck Concert Hall each weekend.

The Theatre Department is also having its Senior Thesis Festival Showcase – a series of four full-length, senior-directed plays spread out across four weekends. I had the opportunity to act in one of the productions, Machinal, which was a truly remarkable experience. Machinal is a 1920s, expressionist social drama, and having the opportunity to work with a director, designers, and dramaturges who were highly experienced in theatrical production, expressionism, movement, and design was unparalleled. I was inspired to see how much students can learn about production and design through the Theatre Department. The other plays include Rabbit Hole and Tallgrass Gothic (both closed) and Pterodactyls. All of the pieces are fairly remarkable, and engage not only the senior directors, but underclassmen actors and designers in major projects that prepare students for the type of work one would encounter working in professional theatre.

I have only mentioned how student research is conducted and showcased in a few departments, but I could truly go on about the vast number of research opportunities in every department at Puget Sound. That’s also not including the variety of more informal (although no less significant) opportunities for student publication through the Elements scientific journal and the Crosscurrents literary magazine, as well as a variety of other student publications. There are also ample opportunities for performance outside of senior showcases through various music concerts and through student-sponsored independent projects with the Student Theatre club.

There is certainly no shortage of opportunities for student research and for publication of student research at Puget Sound. Really all that students need to conduct research at Puget Sound is the idea for and the drive to complete an independent research project. Research grants of $500 dollars during the year and about $3000 during the summer for both science and humanities/arts research can also help make research projects a reality, and only require that a student apply with a project (and some supporting knowledge through coursework and preliminary research) in mind. These are very useful awards, especially for senior theses and other large-scale research projects. Students can, of course, conduct research without them, especially when working on a mentor’s project that already has funding. Here’s a link to the page on undergraduate research and travel awards at Puget Sound: http://www.pugetsound.edu/academics/academic-resources/student-research–travel-award/

Essentially, no matter what your area of interest, time-commitment, or project idea entails, you can quite likely find a way to both perform and present research at Puget Sound and to the larger scholarly community as an undergraduate, which is one quality that makes Puget Sound stand out as a liberal arts college, and amongst colleges and universities in general.

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