Scholarship Projects for Undergraduate Researchers (SPUR)

Linking teaching & Research

spurStudentsAuthor

Samantha Lister – Undergraduate Student
School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

Summary

The Scholarship Projects for Undergraduate Researchers (SPUR) scheme, at Nottingham Trent University, provides bursaries for undergraduates to work on research projects with academic staff in the summer vacation. The aims are to give the students work and research experience, to foster connections between undergraduate and postgraduate communities, to develop skills of benefit to their studies and to inform the curriculum so that a wide cohort of students benefit from the new knowledge. This case study examines the experiences of one student, Samantha Lister, working on the peer-reviewed journal, Writing Technologies, with lecturers in English Daniel Cordle and Philip Leonard, and also considers the experiences of another student, Esme Coulbert, who worked with Carl Thompson and Betty Hagglund on the Maria Graham Project. The Writing Technologies project included experience of researching funding sources and developing funding bids, copy-editing and publishing issue 2.1, developing the journal’s network of contacts, improving its website, and also involved writing biographies of the Editorial Board and participating in editorial meetings regarding new submissions to the journal

Background / Context

spurwtDuring the first round of SPUR in Summer 2008 Nottingham Trent University provided bursaries for fifteen scholarship projects to involve second year undergraduate students. The bursaries were awarded to research teams from diverse disciplines across the institution. Members of the English department won two bursaries, distributing them to students on the basis of a full bursary application and interview; unsuccessful applicants were given feedback on their applications and interview technique. I applied to the Writing Technologies project in April 2008 and was granted the five-week bursary to work on the project after a successful interview. I was particularly interested in taking part in the project because of the opportunities it offered me to gain experience in publishing an online journal, to develop my editorial and research skills and to explore the prospect of post-graduate study. I was also keen to engage with the content of the journal as I had had little experience with this area of research during my studies thus far.

Activities / Practice

Students participating in English SPUR projects were given a breakdown of tasks to complete, with a view to developing a multitude of skills specific to each area of research. Regular meetings with tutors were built in to discuss progress and address problems arising in the course of the work.

spurGroupI began by concentrating on issue 1.1 of Writing Technologies, and created a database of the current contributors. I then wrote biographies about each member of the Editorial Board for the journal’s website, listing the institution, research interests, current projects and selected publications for each. Other developments that I made to the Writing Technologies website include a new/recent books for review section and a links page which will appear for the first time in issue 3.1. It is encouraging to think that I have made a contribution to the journal that will last beyond the period of my scholarship.

My search then began for new contacts: scholars who shared research interests addressed within Writing Technologies, including the impact of the typewriter, the printing press and new media writing upon the changing nature of English as a discipline. I found this a very interesting process, discovering how much research had been carried out in this area and the number of scholars worldwide who were engaged in this area of research. I was surprised at how broad a spectrum this work covered; the result was that article submissions were possible from academics with a wide range of different research interests. From this research, I created a database of new contacts to whom I could later publicise the journal and who might also contribute to it. This was an extremely worthwhile task with, potentially, a very substantial effect on the future development of the journal.

spur2My next task involved researching funding schemes that were available in order to bid for a grant to develop the journal further. This was a difficult task at first but I soon found promising grants, such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Network Grant, that would enable the editors of Writing Technologies to establish a network that would continue beyond the grant period and raise the profile of the online journal as a whole. The network would also allow scholars worldwide to come together at Nottingham Trent University and engage with all the areas of research covered by the journal. One further aim of this network as a result of the grant is the possibility for contributors to collaborate for special issues. I was grateful to be involved in researching and preparing the funding bid as it will be fundamental to the development of the journal and the areas of research that it covers. I am keen to see the outcome of the bid beyond the period of my scholarship and hope a successful network is established. Searching for funding also gave me valuable experience that I may require in order to apply for postgraduate funding or in employment.

One other rewarding task that I was given to work on during the period of my scholarship was the copy-editing and publishing of the second issue of the journal (issue 2.1). This involved editorial meetings to discuss submissions and any changes that needed to be made to the layout of the website. This helpful insight into the work behind the scenes of publishing an online journal enabled me to develop editorial skills which will undoubtedly be useful in my future study and career.

writing techEsme Coulbert has been working on a second SPUR programme within the English department at Nottingham Trent University. Her work focused on the work of the Maria Graham Project: The Woman Writer and the Cultures of Travel, Science and Publishing in the Early Nineteenth Century, and is centred in a completely different period to the Writing Technologies journal. The project spans the period of Graham’s life, from 1795 to 1842, and therefore much of the research involved relies heavily on manuscripts and archival research. Esme was given the opportunity as part of her bursary to travel to London and Birmingham to undertake such research. The project requires some knowledge of women as writers in this early period. One of its main objectives is to collate all of Graham’s work throughout her life and assess it in relation to the genres of travel writing, to the development of science in the period, and to nineteenth century publishing.

Esme reports:

‘Many of the tasks that I have been involved in have been to uncover information such as contemporary reviews of Maria Graham’s work and to catalogue them. I have also completed extensive research and surveys on Graham’s children’s history book Little Arthur’s History of England, which has been extremely helpful in creating a picture of publishing in this period, but also of Graham’s relationship with her publisher. The experience of working on this project has proved an invaluable insight into postgraduate research and has given me the skills to organise research projects for not only my dissertation but also future academic or professional work.’

Conclusions

Working on the Writing Technologies scholarship project has been very worthwhile in that I have gained a valuable insight into the work required in publishing an online journal and into academic research. The work experience and skills that I have acquired will undoubtedly aid me in my future career plans. The experience has provided me with an insight into the world of academic research which is rarely gained by undergraduate students, and furthermore prepared me for postgraduate study through my engagement with academic scholars beyond the level required for undergraduate study. I will also benefit from the scholarship programme in terms of the research I will be required to carry out for my dissertation during the third year of my undergraduate degree.

Throughout the scholarship programme, I additionally learnt to deal with challenges that can arise in the publication of an online journal. One unfortunate set back was the delayed publication of issue 2.1 which meant that tasks assigned for me to complete had to be put on hold and I had to use my initiative to find alternative work. This was a good lesson however in dealing with problems as they arise and a successful publication of issue 2.1 was made in the final week of my scholarship.

Overall, I feel the SPUR scheme can benefit students and staff across university departments. I felt appreciated for the work I carried out throughout the period of my scholarship and achieved a sense of satisfaction that I have contributed to an area of research that will continue to develop. I believe other English departments could benefit from schemes such as the SPUR as it not only enables student to gain valuable skills but allows for ongoing research projects within an institution to be developed over a concentrated period of time with the help of the bursaries to support students with their living costs.

References


February 2009