by ANGELA BREW

These troubled times give us cause to wonder what the impact will be on research in universities. How will Covid-19 change the research that is done, or change the ways that research is done in varied disciplines?

These are questions that undergraduate researchers are addressing in The Great ACUR Undergraduate Research Writing Project , ( “thought-experiment for undergraduate researchers to write about during the time of Covid-19).   The project is an initiative of the Australasian Council for Undergraduate Research (ACUR), an independent membership organisation committed to promoting and advancing undergraduate research across Australia and New Zealand. Entries in this exciting competition are now being reviewed and it is obvious that many undergraduates are thinking hard about the kinds of research opportunities that will be available to them in the future.

Many undergraduate students engage in research through their honours projects. For example, Eden Little from Griffith University researched the potential of an Indigenous plant, well known for its healing properties, that could contribute pharmacological solutions to a variety of conditions. Eden was supported by the Kungullanji Research Program at Griffith University to present her research at the 2nd World Congress on Undergraduate Research in Germany last year.

Many opportunities now exist for research engagement within undergraduate coursework. ANU, for example, provides a research-intensive undergraduate experience where students manage their own projects and develop valuable research and experimental skills from first year. ANU student Lachlan Deimel has been working in vaccine immunology to understand crucial biochemical pathways associated with determining the quality of a vaccination outcome; important for providing immunity against, for example, Covid-19. As an undergraduate, Samantha de Silva was supported by the ANU to travel to China for a research-intensive course in which she carried out cross-cultural research examining the applicability of Western measures of psychopathology to the Chinese cultural context. This work inspired her to undertake further research and she is now pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology.

And so it is for many students: engaging in research as an undergraduate can lead to further research. At Uni Queensland, Liam Daly Manocchio gained course credit for two research subjects. His research focused on a novel means of preventing denial of service cyberattacks which cost industry billions of dollars each year, by using a simple system that costs almost nothing to install. Crystal Santos, also from Uni Queensland, told me that her undergraduate research challenged dominant theories of autism, opening new avenues for clinical intervention. This led directly to PhD study. “My favourite thing about research is that it involves a great deal of problem solving”, she says, “although it can be really challenging at times, it is a great feeling when your hard work pays off and you find something really exciting!”

Research in universities is set to change, but the future of research is assured through the work and enthusiasm of these undergraduate researchers who have learnt new skills and developed the confidence to cope with uncertainty. For more information about ACUR and The Great ACUR Undergraduate Research Writing Project go to http://www.acur.org.au/

Emeritus Professor Angela Brew, Chair Australasian Council for Undergraduate Research (ACUR) chair@acur.org.au

2008 ALTC National Teaching Fellow

ALTF 2019 Legacy Report here


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