9 April 2018

Undergraduate Research Week: Celebrating the Future of Scientific Global Research

Posted by Joshua Speiser

Elizabeth L. Ambos, Executive Officer for the Council on Undergraduate Research

Elizabeth (Beth) L. Ambos, Executive Officer for the Council on Undergraduate Research

Not only is April the month in which we celebrate Earth Day, but it also marks the commemoration of Undergraduate Research Week. This celebration was first created to highlight the valuable contributions of undergraduate research in making new discoveries, lifting up undergraduate research voices, and demonstrating to wider audiences the breadth and diversity of the undergraduate research enterprise. Due to the advocacy of undergraduate research leaders within the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), on November 16, 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives declared the week of April 11, 2011 as Undergraduate Research Week.

House Resolution 1654 was introduced by then Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), currently the Chief Executive Officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  The enthusiasm that Dr. Holt and several other members of Congress had for undergraduate research was noted in the floor debate. Excerpts from the resolution ring as true today, as they did close to a decade ago:  “Resolved, That the House of Representatives—recognizes the importance of undergraduate research and of providing research opportunities for the Nation’s talented youth to cultivate innovative, creative, and enterprising young researchers, in collaboration with dedicated faculty… encourages opportunities, including through existing programs, for females and underrepresented minorities to participate in undergraduate research…and supports the role undergraduate research can and does play in crucial research that serves the Nation’s best economic and security interests.”

For undergraduate researchers, stories about their journeys from novice investigator to competent researcher are key parts in formation of their professional identities. This holds true for the faculty members and other scientists who serve as their mentors and guides. We need to have specific milestones to document what we’ve achieved in research: for me, these would include my first undergraduate design, implementation, in class presentation of the results of a geophysical field experiment at Smith College. My first AGU presentation several years later, as a graduate student at University of Hawaii at Mānoa was another of these professional growth benchmarks. Each public presentation affirmed my success as a researcher and helped establish my identity as a scientist. Most commemorations of undergraduate research week occur during campus research days when undergraduate researchers present their work ― on posters and/or in oral presentation sessions ― to other students and faculty.

As I write this, I’m attending the largest celebration we have for undergraduate research: the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). In this the 32nd year of the conference, the University of Central Oklahoma is hosting more than 4200 scholars hailing from the United States and 19 other countries. The free exchange of research among undergraduate scholars and the building of research networks and collaborations for these future research leaders is critically dependent on the free exchange of ideas and open travel opportunities. As we celebrate undergraduate research week in 2018, let’s be mindful that we are fostering the future of our global research enterprise.

Elizabeth (Beth) L. Ambos is the Executive Officer for the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and a proud AGU member. The CUR’s mission is support of high-quality undergraduate research, scholarship and creative inquiry, and has more than 13,000 members representing more than 1,000 academic institutions.