Ever wonder what happens beyond the laboratory doors of the chemistry, biology, and earth science buildings at UCSB? A recent development by the Undergraduate Research Program at UCSB is the addition of an undergraduate research blog.
Students in the McNair Scholars and EUREKA programs at UCSB contribute to the blog with at least three to four posts a quarter regarding their experience as undergraduates working in various research labs on campus. Students talk about topics like the conflict of their schedules as students and research assistants with their personal lives, their discoveries (or failures) in their lab research, and even self-imposed experiments based on curiosity outside of the lab, such as cutting down on caffeine consumption to increase the effects of caffeine during finals.
Whitney Winn, who manages the site, oversees undergraduate research in the UCSB Office of Research as a Research Development Analyst. Winn said she started the site “as a way for students to get experience with writing about their research and reflect on their accomplishments, while showing people who are interested in research what it’s like.”
Winn said she was inspired by the group Inset to start informing the outside world about how to get involved in research, from the perspective of students. Inset is a UCSB sponsored program, where community college students come to do research during the summer at UCSB. Those students would ask many detail-oriented questions of Winn, who felt a better, more readable and accessible perspective of the happenings of UCSB research could be provided by UCSB students actually involved in research in various academic fields.
Right before fall quarter of the 2010-2011 academic year, Winn contacted EUREKA!, a program described by its website as “designed to enrich the academic experience of undergraduates at UCSB in science, technology, mathematics and engineering [… by focusing] on introducing students in their first year to the broader science community on campus and providing exposure to research through academic year internships”. She solicited for second year students, who were still kind of new to the undergraduate research involvement, so they would have a fresher, more interesting perspective.
Winn also invited McNair Scholars students, juniors or seniors involved in social sciences and humanities research, to join as contributors to the site last quarter. Students in both EUREKA and McNairs are very research committed, having signed up for research-based programs lasting a year or longer. EUREKA students are required to contribute to the blog as part of their research, but three McNair students contribute on a voluntary basis. On the blog, all posts from the students are intermixed, but you can click links on the top of the website’s home page to separate between EUREKA and McNair Scholars.
Winn said she enjoyed the freedom allowed students for the blog. Said Winn,”you post basically whatever you want related to research and your school life. Research is not always easy, but it can be fun.” Her primary target audience is other students at UCSB (not professors) because not everyone at UCSB knows what’s going on with research. The blog’s secondary audience is parents and prospective students looking to get an accurate picture of what goes on behind the scenes in labs at UCSB.
Madison Cornwell, one of the EUREKA interns involved in the blog, described her experience writing for the UCSB undergraduate research blog as, “similar to writing an anonymous encouragement letter.” Said Cornwell, “I hope that my entries reach out to other students struggling to balance a demanding class schedule, the impulse to work hard towards research discovery, and the pull towards having a social life as well. I hope that by sharing my thoughts, frustrations, and small steps forward, other students will not only realize that they are capable of making research a priority, but also that doing so will transform their college experience.”
Cornwell emphasized the blog’s useful application to life, saying, “making the transition from classroom concepts to research application, from student to independent thinker, is more real and rewarding than any test score.”
By sharing these students’ hopes, joys, and disappointment about research and how it affects their life and the lives of others on the blog, it seems as though an fun and educational outlet has been created for expressing all of this emotion regarding a typically dryly characterized subject .
As for the future of the research blog, Winn said,”we hope to continue the blog next year, and open it up to any student who is interested in participating.”
The blog is linked to the UCSB undergraduate research website, and the EUREKA website. You can check out the undergraduate research blog, and leave a comment or even contribute at http://ucsbundergradresearch.wordpress.com/ .