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Undergraduate research as a student engagement springboard: Exploring the longer-term reported benefits of participation in a research conference


ABSTRACTBackground: Undergraduate research is evident in many forms across higher education: in journals, at conferences and on research placements. It is widely reported that undergraduate research can encourage the development of discipline-specific and transferable communication skills and, in some cases, a more complex development of higher-order critical appraisal. Recent studies of extracurricular undergraduate research conferences have also found that participants report a development of self-authorship and an appreciation of the conference as liminal and transformative space. With many published studies measuring immediate feedback surrounding conference events, there is also a need to explore participants’ reflections over a longer term period of time.Purpose: This small-scale project investigated participants’ self-report of whether and in what ways participation in a non-assessed, extracurricular undergraduate research conference had impacted their academic and professional practices, one year after their involvement in the conference.Method: The qualitative study took place over two academic years with participants from an undergraduate conference which was held annually. The investigation adopted an action research methodology and completed two cycles of research. Data were collected firstly through an online survey with open questions, yielding feedback from 44 respondents. Focus groups were then conducted with nine of these students to explore this data further. A thematic approach was used to analyse the data.Findings: The two cycles of data collection and analyses resulted in the identification of four central themes: (1) general positive impact on studies or career; (2) the development of presentation skills and personal confidence; (3) the development of research skills and perspectives; (4) an increased engagement with extracurricular opportunities.Conclusions: Overall, our analysis identified that participants reported a development in communication skills and an enhanced relationship with the concept of ‘research’ and self-authorship. Students’ report that participation directly led to increased engagement with additional extracurricular activities is particularly noteworthy, as it contributes something new to the growing body of literature surrounding undergraduate research. More widely, the study suggests the potential for undergraduate conferences to act as springboards for increased extracurricular engagement.

Acceptance Date Mar 23, 2020
Publication Date Apr 16, 2020
Journal Educational Research
Print ISSN 0013-1881
Publisher Routledge
Keywords Undergraduate research, student engagement, students as producers, undergraduate conference, action research, higher education
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