William & Mary Undergraduate Research Month returns in April with exciting programming

  • Maiya Callender ’19 displays a poster at W&M’s Natural Science Research Symposium featuring the work she did as an undergraduate student, conducting research on the bacterium Vibrio fischeri in the lab of microbiologist William & Mary William Soto.
    Photo by Stephen Salpukas

by Adrienne Berard


March 28, 2022

William & Mary’s second annual Undergraduate Research Month kicks off on April 1 – and this time it will be primarily on campus and in person.

Last April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dan Cristol, director of faculty-supervised undergraduate research at the university’s Roy R. Charles Center for Academic Excellence, led the first-ever digital showcase of month of W&M undergraduate research. This year, as COVID-19 case levels have declined regionally and nationally, Cristol is excited to move the event from the virtual realm to the non-digital world.

“It’s an in-person event this year,” Cristol said. “Some programs may have streaming and we have virtual backup plans, but for the most part it’s really about being together after all this time apart.”

This year’s slate of events will feature work from a wide range of disciplines, numerous animation workshops and showcasing first-time student projects. Also new this year is a research-focused career fair and retreat for undergraduate writers. Cristol has made it a priority to define “research” broadly to include work done in the arts, humanities and social sciences as well as natural and computer sciences.

Caitlin Dolt '22 points to notes drawn inside the Swem Special Collections copy of “For it to be considered ‘research’, the work must have two criteria for me,” explained Cristol. “First, it needs to be mentored by a faculty member. Second, and the most important criterion, is that the work must have the potential to generate new knowledge. What our community will see throughout Undergraduate Research Month is the showcase of this new knowledge. »

He says the calendar of events will demonstrate the depth and breadth of undergraduate research activity across the university – a hallmark of William & Mary.

“That’s what we have to offer that many other schools don’t: a large number of faculty members who are genuinely interested in working with undergraduates on meaningful, out-of-class research,” Cristol said during of the launch of the event last year. . “It just doesn’t happen in other places as much as it does here.”

He explained that the greatest part of this event is that it inspires current and future students to get involved in research – and shows them that “research” is not just lab coats and beakers, although there is a lot of exciting work in STEM. the fields too.

Hongmin Yu '20 combs through data produced by a mass spectrometer as part of a summer aerosol research project in the lab of W&M chemist Rachel O'Brien.  (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)“We want a student who studies music under the guidance of a faculty member, then writes a piece and the performer understands that their work fits our definition of research,” Cristol said. “Performance in the arts is akin to publishing – and it clearly brings new knowledge to the world. Each project highlighted in Undergraduate Research Month matches our search criteria. »

Taking research (and researchers) seriously

This year, the Charles Center partnered with the university’s Cohen Career Center to offer students an event that Cristol calls the “Reverse Job Fair.”

“Basically, we train students to talk about their research to someone who isn’t a researcher, but is actually an employer,” Cristol said. “Then we bring in the University Employment Advisory Council, which is made up of business leaders, and they walk around the room and stop to talk with the students. That’s why it’s the other way around – employers go to students to find out more about their work.

Cristol says the Charles Center – and the university as a whole – is moving towards emphasizing research as a way to generate professional skills alongside new knowledge. Cristol recently described these goals in an interview with Virginia Affairs and William & Mary recently announced careers as a key initiative of Vision 2026, the university’s strategic plan.

A turtle found by Abigail Belvin '20, who conducted an ecological study of the diamondback turtles that live on the Catlett Islands in the York River as part of work for a Charles Center Summer Fellowship .  (Courtesy picture)“We want students to be able to talk about their research in a way that shows the skills they’ve developed and how those skills make them employable,” Cristol said. “It’s important that they know how to talk about their work, because what we do at William & Mary is so different from other places. Our students work with faculty to conduct impactful research that generates new knowledge for the world. It’s the real thing.

Real work requires real support, Cristol added, which is why the Charles Center has partnered with William & Mary Libraries to offer students an Honors Thesis Writers’ Retreat at Swem Library. Inspired by the faculty’s writers’ retreat, the aim is to give research students uninterrupted time to work on their honors theses. The retreat provides students with their own dedicated Swem study space, as well as food, drink, bespoke programming, and structured writing time.

“We need to treat our student researchers as we would our professors, because they are real researchers,” Cristol said.

And just like faculty, many undergraduate research projects are funded. These funded projects, along with all honors thesis research, will be showcased as short videos on the Arts and Science website or in a themed series of in-person poster sessions, to be held in the Blow Room. Hall 201 every Monday. , Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. all month.

Importants events

For more than a decade, the Ampersand International Arts Festival (formerly the W&M Global Film Festival) has brought together the William & Mary and Williamsburg communities for an annual celebration of film and performance. This year, the festival collaborated with the Charles Center to offer several research-focused undergraduate events, including a conversation about undergraduate research as career preparation with the Tony Award winner and former 1693 Scholar , Caitlin Clements ’11.

The William & Mary Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience (WMSURE) program, which supports W&M Scholars, will host its second annual WMSURE Undergraduate Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is “Undergraduate Research in Times of Adversity”.

The fourth annual Art History Senior Research Colloquium will feature ten art history majors, under the direction of Professor Sibel Zandi-Sayek, who have developed and refined in-depth research on a variety of topics, ranging from historical to contemporary.

The Department of Sociology’s Social Justice Policy Initiative Research Showcase will feature students presenting policy-oriented, community-engaged research and partnerships. The program will include research on affordable housing and the eviction crisis; as well as community partnerships and research collaborations with The Village Initiative, the NAACP, YCJW, The Let Freedom Ring Foundation, and Williamsburg Action.

A new event this year features undergraduate research supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, to investigate shared authority between W&M and the descendants of people enslaved by the university, both through the Lemon Project on the main campus and on the Highland campus.

“Of course, there’s tons of cutting-edge STEM research, as always, and there’s also a wide range of happenings in so many different disciplines,” Cristol said. “But they’re all firmly rooted in the undergraduate research experience.”