News, Student Voice

Students as Researchers: BCUR Edition

In April, BILT were meant to take 30 students to Leeds to present their research projects at the British Conference for Undergraduate Research (BCUR). It would have been the first time Bristol University attended the conference and we had 30 brilliant projects lined up. It was, of course, cancelled due to COVID-19, but I caught up with a couple of the students who should have attended to talk about their projects and research-informed teaching.

Rosa Stevens, 3rd Year History

The Influence of Humanist Theory on Concepts and Practices of Preservation on the Ancient Sites in Renaissance Rome

How did you choose your project?

I studied an early modern Italian history unit in my third year, which allowed me to study Renaissance humanism in a lot of detail. I became really interested in humanist theory and how it led to the creation of Renaissance art and culture by idealising ancient culture. I then began reading around how this affected perception of ancient ruins. I’ve also always loved old buildings and classical statues, so this seemed like a natural fit for my historical interest in the Renaissance.

What skills do you think conducting a research project has given you?

My critical reading skills have developed greatly, I now feel far more capable in critically examining primary and secondary stories, to look beyond the surface message and analyse the writers true meaning. I have also learnt much more effective methods of finding and using primary sources.

I’ve learnt how to use historiography more effectively in my writing, and how to place my work as a historian within the existing scholarship.

What have you enjoyed about your research project?

I have enjoyed reading a large range of specific works that I’m interested in. I have loved that my project has become quite cross-disciplinary, allowing me to explore routes in art history, classics and ancient history, and some language skills. Throughout this project I have been able to visit lots of the ancient sites in Rome, and I have started to learn some basic Latin.

Do you prefer to be assessed through research projects or exams?

I prefer research projects where I set the question, because it allows me to focus my research as a historian more closely. My department has always encouraged me to follow my interests for research projects and essays, which has meant that then I have an increased passion for the subjects I’m writing about. Throughout my degree I have been largely focused on Medieval and Early Modern history, often looking at social and cultural factors and using a lot of visual culture and printed material. Research projects have given me the space to really develop my research interests and my style of research as a historian. This has helped me greatly when applying for Masters courses as it has meant that I have plenty to discuss in interviews because I am genuinely passionate about the research I have done.

Chloe Betts, 3rd Year Biology

How Mutations Within ABA Biosynthesis and Signalling Affect Stomatal Development and Whole Plant Water Loss Following Dark Treatment

How did you choose your project?

For my third-year practical project, my lab partner and I selected a supervisor based on their main area of research. They then worked with us to come up with a project title that fitted into their research groups overall aims.

What have you enjoyed about your research project?

I really enjoyed getting a feel for what it’s like to be part of a research group. I love the problem-solving element of lab work, and with this particular project I found it very motivating to know that the project had real world impacts and importance. I have always enjoyed lab work, but this project further motivated me to pursue a career in research.

Do you find conducting an extended research project beneficial to your learning and why?

Definitely. The lab project was enjoyable and engaging, which made me much more motivated and interested in the area that it was in. I think this will help me in my taught units relating to this topic as it is always helpful to be able to relate information to real examples and I think I learn better this way.

Do you prefer being assessed through research projects or exams and why?

I much prefer being assessed through research projects as I feel that if you work hard consistently throughout the project, this is reflected more in your grade. I also find research projects more enjoyable and I learn more through doing them. In an exam I find I quickly forget the information after the exam, however, through doing my research project I have gained a much deeper understanding of the topic which I would not have got from lectures followed by a traditional exam.

Iso Hirst, 3rd Year Biochemistry (with year in Industry)

Structural Studies of a Membrane Protein Complex

How did you choose your project?

I applied to it – it was already planned out by my research group that I joined for my year in industry at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s only synchrotron. I basically chose the project because I thought it’d be a cool place to do a year in industry, and then this project was the one I could do with a Biochemistry degree.

What did you enjoy about your research project?

I really enjoyed most things about it. Because it was at the UK’s only synchrotron, people use it for biochemistry, but they also use it for engineering, physics, chemistry, archaeology, even art history, because they can date paintings with it. And people come from all over the world and from lots of different disciplines to use it. It feels like quite a futuristic and exciting place to be. So, you sort of are surrounded by lots of different academics all the time. I felt like I was literally in the world of science.

Did you find conducting a research project beneficial to your learning, and why?

Definitely. Having done my year in industry and applied a lot of what I learned previously in lectures to real life, coming back and doing lectures and exams again this year, I found the stuff so much easier to learn. It’s so much easier to remember because I can actually imagine doing it in a real lab. Also, I feel like I can apply my knowledge a lot better now. I think giving real life context to teaching makes it way more interesting and easier to remember. I got all of that from doing research-based teaching.

Do you prefer being assessed through research projects or exams?

I think I actually prefer being assessed by exams because I’m better in exams than in coursework, because you just go in and do it. Whereas with coursework, I faff about a lot and the way you end up being assessed for research projects is to write up a report. Maybe if it was a presentation, that would be okay because that’s a one-time thing like an exam. I have been assessed by reports I’ve done for research projects, and I’m glad I did them because the process of writing it all up is quite interesting and fun, and I’ve learned a lot from it. But I think being assessed adds quite an element of stress to your research project, because if you know you’ve got to produce a report for a mark then you’re like ‘oh what if I don’t get the results, will I fail?’. So I think I prefer a mixture. In terms of how well I do, I probably prefer exams, but then in terms of learning experience, then probably both.

Owen Barlow, 4th Year Liberal Arts

HIV and Suffering in ‘Post-AIDS’ Geographies

How dd you choose your project?

I chose the theme of HIV and emotion due to my own personal anxieties and discomforts about contraction as a man who has sex with men (MSM). I figured the more I know about the experience of HIV as a chronic illness the more I would be able to make sense of the virus in a more rational and authentic manner.

Did you find conducting a research project beneficial to your learning?

I found conducting a research project was inspiring and also encouraged me to stay committed to a research idea even despite barriers and unforeseen challenges. I loved writing my dissertation, it was the highlight of my degree.

Do you prefer to be assessed through research projects or exams?

I prefer projects because they allow the researcher to sit with research questions and mull them over for much longer. In Philosophy, this thinking-time is particularly invaluable. Also, research projects enable more creativity rather than testing how strong someone’s memory of key information is.

Hopefully, next year Bristol will be able to make their debut at BCUR!

Emily Kinder

Meet the BILT Student Fellows, Student Voice

Meet the Student Fellows… Emily Kinder

Hi, I’m Emily Kinder. I did my undergrad degree at Bristol but just couldn’t stay away, and now I’m back to do an MPhil in English and to work as a BILT Student Fellow on a project called ‘students as researchers’. Starting a research degree is pretty daunting; it’s filled with a lot of lone study and bouts of imposter syndrome and the recurring feeling that you’ve no idea what you’re doing. But it’s also really fun and exciting, and the best part of research is knowing that you’re working on something that hasn’t been done before.

With the new Temple Quarter campus being built and the new curriculum framework in the works, the Uni is really putting an emphasis on a ‘research-rich education’. But as a student it’s easy to feel cut off from these taglines and often we become disillusioned as everything seems like it leads back to assessments and marks.

That’s why I want to make celebrating undergrad research a priority, so we feel enthused and excited about the work we do and start to think of it as something more than part of our overall grade. I have a few ideas already for the year, such as recruiting a group of undergrads for the British Conference for Undergraduate Research (click here to sign up, it’s going to be a lot of fun!) and establishing a multi-disciplinary journal to publish our best essays and projects.

But that’s not all – I also want to hear from you. I want to bridge the gap between the institution and the students, to talk to students about what ‘research’ means to them, and ultimately to develop a culture of celebrating and encouraging undergraduate research. You can expect workshops, focus groups and countless cups of coffee. I’ll keep you updated with how it goes!

Emily Kinder