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On doing research for your undergraduate course requirements

November 2014
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It’s that time of year again when we are swamped with requests for interviews from students taking undergraduate courses. These undergraduate courses include those on Science, Technology and Society, English, Communications, Architecture, Geography, Business, and Economics. These requests are not limited to students from our university but also come from students in other schools as well. While we are happy to oblige, granting interviews face-to-face or through correspondence (through email, of course), we are becoming wary about students not doing their part first before requesting an interview. In many cases, they just fire off a list of questions in the first email, probably hoping the addressee would be kind enough to answer all these questions in a comprehensive manner. That way, perhaps the student will be able to save on time and effort in doing his/her report. That’s right, let the expert answer all the questions and tell me what references I should list down in my report. If the student can’t understand what the expert wrote in reply or if the student thinks its not enough, then the latter could just send a follow-up with additional questions or request another interview.

Is this the right way to do research? I do not agree with this and perhaps the faculty handling their respective courses these students are enrolled under should take care in how they frame their requirements. It is as if they are passing on their responsibilities to other faculty members, experts in their particular fields, who would have to contend with requests for interviews or outright questions in their emails. That’s probably understandable for general education courses like English and STS, but not acceptable for undergraduate research projects that are supposed to be “capping” courses in their programs.

How do I address such inquiries in my mailbox? I do respond immediately and in fairness to the students whom I assume are somewhat misguided in his/her research work; particularly on how to conduct research. My usual reply is that I cannot accommodate the request due to my schedule followed by a counter-request for the student to send me his/her questions first (if he/she hasn’t done so in the first email). If I already have an idea of the students’ topics, then I would suggest some reading material or references first, and hopefully that can help the students frame their questions. That way, I can gauge if the students are really serious about their research or are just going through the motions. It’s difficult for me to be serious or passionate with my replies if the person on the other side of the proverbial table is not at all interested in the topic and treats the exercise as just another requirement for him/her to get a good grade.

Doing his/her part before even contacting experts mean the student needs to do some literature review. That can be in the form of research online and not the kind where the student will just mention a few articles (often opinion pieces) that they read on Rappler, Yahoo or other online sources. There’s a wealth of more scholarly and objective information now available on the net and UP students have access to journals, books and other references through the university’s libraries. These are privileges that they have already paid for as part of their tuition so why let these resources go to waste? I believe students can do a good job in their research projects if they are given proper guidance by their advisers or instructors, who should be the “first line of defense” against mediocrity in their studies at this level. Getting rarer these days are students who come in prepared and are really passionate about the topics they are studying.


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