Some colleges outpace others in research
Joe Trombello | Monday, October 10, 2005
Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two part series examining the presence and future of undergraduate research within different colleges at Notre Dame.
While undergraduate research in some of Notre Dame’s colleges is widespread or growing, it is still difficult for undergraduates to be involved in faculty research in some areas of the University, administrators said.
Undergraduate involvement in research is relatively common in the College of Science, according to associate dean Mitchell Wayne. Wayne said a number of students sign up for research credit and are involved in some capacity in faculty laboratories. Wayne also said some students are funded through faculty grants.
“We strongly encourage students, especially students who think they are going on to graduate school, to do research,” he said.
Assistant professor of physics Philippe Collon said about 25 percent of physics majors are “involved in one form or another in active undergraduate research.”
Wayne said the college is talking about developing a new position to coordinate all of the research opportunities available to undergraduates, perhaps through a database. He also said the department does not have “a continuing means of support” to fund students who attend conferences or present their work.
Wayne said he and other members of the college are very supportive of University President Father John Jenkins’ emphasis on undergraduate research.
“As a college we are thrilled to hear [University President] Father John Jenkins speak about this,” he said. “He has been pushing this since four years ago. He is experienced enough to know that these things don’t happen automatically.”
William Nichols, associate dean in the College of Business, said opportunities for undergraduates to become involved in faculty research are less common in business than in other colleges.
“I agree that [increasing undergraduate research] is something that we would like to think about … [but] it is going to take a while,” he said. “It is more difficult in this field than in science and engineering.”
At the same time, Nichols did stress that some students have been directly involved in faculty research. For example, a former student in associate professor of management Rob Easley’s Management Information Systems class used skills learned in class about genetic data to help out on a research project in the biology department.
“Business students don’t [usually] get to think about things like curing malaria,” Easley said. “Skills they have learned locally, they are providing to other departments.”
Associate professor of marketing Elizabeth Moore funded undergraduate students this summer to assist her with a project on the connection between marketing and childhood obesity. Two undergraduates are continuing to work with her this semester. A former student and recent graduate Gail Bowman co-authored a paper with her that was presented at a national conference last weekend.
“I think they [undergraduates] are terrific,” Moore said. “I think our students are a very talented group. The students who have worked for me have been conscientious and careful in what they are doing. They have been open to learning and they have been receptive … it has been a good experience.”
Nichols said that while business students may not be as likely to engage in purely academic research – hypothesis testing – as in other colleges, they still gain experience in research that will serve them in the business world, such as researching stock investments or business plans.
“Research skills that faculty use are not necessarily skills that we provide in the classroom. People in business are trained … to be leaders … in business,” he said.
Nichols also said students often engage in classroom discussion and analysis of real-world business situations for which there is no clear-cut answer.
“You have to go into the major and ask questions that haven’t been asked before and figure out how to do that,” he said. “[We have] students actively involved on doing research on [issues] that would come before them in their professional lives and for which there is no clear answer.”
As a result of last year’s College Council meeting, Nichols said the College of Business is committed to funding undergraduate research, although there is no formal funding agency such as in the College of Arts and Letters.
“We have made a commitment that we will fund this [undergraduate research] but we have not done anything yet to structure or promote the initiative,” he said.
Nichols also said the College of Business stands behind Jenkins’ priority with regards to undergraduate research.
“We will react to Father Jenkins’ … important initiative,” he said. “We will do everything possible to meet that initiative … we just have to brainstorm.”