Warwick / Work experience

My experience as an undergraduate researcher

If you’re looking for a chance to flex your intellectual muscles and immerse yourself in a challenging project, then look no further than the Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme. This scheme offers a unique opportunity to dip your toe in the waters of academic research and develop a wealth of transferable skills. Whether you decide to pursue postgrad study afterwards, or leave research behind it’s a great way to develop your employability. Over to Caitlin Jenkins, a final year law student, who spent last summer working on her own URSS project….

“There’s no way I can do that”…

Hearing the lecture shout-out about the undergraduate research scheme, my first thought was ‘there is no way I could ever do that.’ However, after attending the previous year’s URSS poster showcase, and having become increasingly interested in a specific area of my Law degree, I decided to give it a go. My interest grew during the process of drafting my research idea, and I began to think that I may want to continue to postgraduate study before taking my exams to go the Bar. URSS seemed the perfect opportunity to test whether I could manage a research Master’s, both in terms of my interest in the subject and my personal motivation.

“Actually, yes I can”

During the application process, it became very clear to me why I was applying. By assessing the skills I was hoping to develop, I was able to set clear goals of what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to improve, amongst other things, my organisational and project management skills, my self-confidence and my oral and written presentation skills. Reflecting on this at the end of my project, I have improved in all these areas. I can conduct research for my academic work in an efficient, focused manner and my self-awareness has increased, enabling me to plan my time to work to my very best. I have become able to better voice my own views in discussion groups, and have found that I actually quite like presentations!

Becoming a fledgling researcher

The question is, what was it about URSS that enabled me to do this? Firstly, URSS provide many very focused skills workshops to help you to get the most out of your research. We were trained on effective project management, research techniques, how to write an abstract, how to complete a poster and where our project could take us. These sessions were always conducted in groups, which created a friendly atmosphere and put me in touch with researchers from all disciplines. This is especially important in independent research, as often a researcher can feel quite isolated.

Secondly, new to URSS this year were the two Research Café events – one in August, and one in September. Each Café gave four URSS interns the chance to present their research to a multi-disciplinary audience of fellow researchers, answering questions and obtaining feedback. This was my favourite part of URSS – I really enjoyed talking about my research, knowing others were there because they were interested. Looking back, this event has transformed my confidence, in that I now feel able to voice my views on a variety of different issues.

Thirdly, URSS run a poster showcase every year after the internship has ended. This is a more formal event, with speakers and networking sessions to allow URSS interns to talk about their finished project. As most posters are printed through Warwick Print, I did not get to see the full-sized version until the day of the showcase. Speaking to staff and students about my work, I felt proud as my poster was exactly what I had envisaged.

Defining my career goals: PhD here I come!

Having completed my URSS project, I have discovered a passion for research. My aspirations to continue to postgraduate study have been affirmed, and I am now likely to apply for a PhD programme in the future, possibly leading to a career in academia. URSS has provided the scope to develop many ideas outside of my academic work, which I hope to explore through future research. I am currently in the process of drafting an article to submit to the Reinvention Journal of Undergraduate Research, and have submitted an abstract in the hope of presenting at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research in April. I have become more involved in departmental research, hoping to assist in the organisation of internal events to raise the profile of undergraduate research.

It’s a great way to develop transferable skills

The URSS experience is second to none – if you are considering it, my advice would be to go for it. It is the perfect opportunity to develop some key transferable skills in a very supportive atmosphere with a wealth of opportunities on offer.  It has contributed to my personal development in so many ways; the biggest change has been the increase in confidence in my own ability, which is crucial to making the most out of my academic studies. I would like to thank URSS, in particular the co-ordinator, Nathalie Dalton-King, for the support offered throughout my project, and for making the experience so enjoyable!

* Applications for the 2014 URSS scheme open today (7th Jan) so if Caitlin’s post has got you thinking, check out the application process

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