Although the university has not established a general undergraduate research requirement, all departments require their undergraduates to conduct research in some form, and most departments require research as part of their upper-level seminars and capstone courses. More generally, the university has increasingly emphasized the centrality of independent research to the undergraduate experience. The office of the vice president for research, charged with promoting undergraduate research, coordinates funding opportunities and hosts a biannual university-wide undergraduate research symposium at which students present their work. Moreover, the university honors program offers funding to support undergraduate research and the presentation of such research at regional and national conferences. Research opportunities (both internal and external) are advertised on the office of research website, on departmental websites, and in The Current, the honors program’s biweekly newsletter.
Departmental research opportunities
All departments allow outstanding students to register for independent study, which usually consists of a research project conducted under the direction of a faculty mentor. In 2008-2009, approximately 330 undergraduate arts and sciences students were engaged in research for academic credit. In addition, most departments have built research into their curricula by engaging students in archival research, involving them in ongoing department-sponsored research, or requiring submission of a conference proposal. Students in the sciences often have the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students in laboratory settings and to serve as co-authors of published studies.
Some departments sponsor exceptional research activities for undergraduates.
Anthropology provides innovative field opportunities, including local cemetery studies and archaeological surveys in Portugal. Students with an interest in biological anthropology can take part in the molecular anthropology and population studies group, which conducts laboratory research using DNA analysis techniques.
Geography and geosciences is currently engaged in the study of public health data using data mining techniques and geographic information systems. Courses in the department are designed to contribute to the project by combining the study of geographic information systems and statistical methods to examine public health data.
Political science, together with sociology, is home to an NSF-supported Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Students receive a stipend for ten weeks of intensive summer study focusing on recent changes in Louisville’s regional government their social impact. Participants present their research at the annual Urban Affairs Association conference; some have also submitted their papers for review in scholarly journals.
The department of physics and astronomy provides students with the opportunity to conduct research in observational astronomy, planetary science, experimental and theoretical nanoscience, condensed matter physics, and high-energy physics. Several faculty members in the department encourage undergraduate students to participate in their funded research projects. The department also gives the W.M. Bullitt Memorial Award for the best undergraduate paper in astronomy.
The department of women’s and gender studies offers support for undergraduate research to students who are already recipients of Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP) funding. KTAP provides financial support to families in transition from welfare to self-sufficiency. The department offers to students who have been supported by the KTAP program an opportunity to engage in academic research in collaboration with a faculty member.
In 2007 the University launched the Ideas to Action initiative, which emphasizes the importance of developing critical thinking skills throughout the undergraduate curriculum. All departments that have not yet done so will develop a Culminating Undergraduate Experience (CUE), generally in the form of a capstone course, an internship, or a research project in which students bring together the skills and knowledge they have acquired in different areas of the curriculum to address some problem or issue. Some departments have already planned pilot research projects for culminating experiences in 2010. Pan-African studies, for example, has established a project in which students and faculty will conduct primary research as part of the Underground Railroad Research Institute. Geography has introduced a senior thesis requirement, while history has established a pilot program involving students in research on modern US history and has launched a student-faculty cooperative research project on US environmental history. The English department’s pilot program supports archival research on the production history of Shakespeare’s plays.
Funding for undergraduate research
The David and Betty Jones Scholarships were created to provide students with strong academic credentials the opportunity to begin research in their fields of study. As sophomores, Jones scholarship recipients begin exploring research possibilities and, as juniors, they have an opportunity to collaborate with one another and with other groups engaged in research. Seniors in the program work conduct research with a faculty mentor who specializes in their field of interest.
The Lilialyce Akers Award for the Study of Women and Global Issues funds research travel for undergraduates and graduate students investigating issues affecting women in the global South or in newly democratizing nations. Upon his or her return, each recipient provides a written report on the results of this research to the committee on women and global issues and gives a public presentation.
The innovative Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), coordinated by the office of the senior vice president for research, provides undergraduates an opportunity to carry out a ten-week research project in any department that offers graduate degrees. Faculty mentors help students to develop independent and original research projects. The program hosts group seminars on topics related to research and graduate education. SROP students, all of whom receive stipends of $3,000 for the research period, are required to present their work in poster form at the university-wide research symposium.
The university’s NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP) provides funding for minority undergraduate students to participate in research projects and in the undergraduate research symposium. This program also helps students to sharpen their skills in writing, test-taking, and interviewing.
Summer programming in the sciences and medicine includes the Kentucky Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network Program, the Center for Molecular Neurobiology Summer Research Program, the Minority Undergraduate Summer Program in Cardiovascular Research, and the University of Louisville Cancer Research Program. All provide hands-on research experiences to qualified undergraduates and are intended to enhance the participant’s motivation to pursue scientific and/or academic careers. Students receive a stipend for a ten-week research-intensive program, work one-on-one with mentors, and participate in a common weekly educational program.
Various individual departments regularly provide modest support for undergraduate research, preparation of research posters, and research travel. Political science, for example, has established a small fund of about $5000 annually that assists students with travel costs, conference registration fees, and other research-related expenses.
Other departments, including history, classical and modern languages, and psychology and brain sciences, provide funds for undergraduate research and travel to conferences.
The honors program also offers funding to support students engaged in active research for their senior honors theses. In addition, the office of research coordinates the Undergraduate Research Scholar (URS) grant, which supports students in research collaboration with a faculty mentor.
The students are expected to identify a member of the faculty who is willing to serve as the project’s supervisor, to be involved in developing the research design, and to write the initial proposal. The faculty mentor arranges for the student to receive up to three hours of course credit for the research or creative activity and provides a grade for the student’s work. Grants of up to $3,000 are provided.
The university’s international center also has a small fund to support student research. The center regularly provides up to $400 to students who are traveling to, and perhaps even presenting at, an international conference.
Finally, the university’s neurosciences program offers students the opportunity to conduct research in the field of neuroscience.
External Undergraduate Research Opportunities
University of Louisville students participate in a wide range of undergraduate research opportunities located off campus. The Cold Spring Harbor laboratory (Long Island, NY) has provided students with enriching ten-week research opportunities in molecular biology, cell biology, neurobiology, and plant biology.
The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, MO) has attracted University of Louisville students to its undergraduate research internship program. With mentoring from senior researchers, students work in the areas of cell biology, molecular biology, structural biology, biochemistry, and microbiology.
The summer student program at Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, ME) supports undergraduate research as well, pairing students with senior research scientists in such areas as biochemical, genetic, molecular, and developmental biology.
Finally, University of Louisville students have conducted research with support from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which offers 12-week summer fellowships for undergraduate research in oceanographic engineering, mathematics, or marine policy.
Opportunities to Present Research
Many departments encourage their undergraduate majors to present their research at regional and national conferences.
Over the last five years students have presented their work in various academic settings, including the following:
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences annual meeting
- American Association of Physics conference
- American Chemistry Society conference
- American Physical Society annual meeting
- American Political Science Association annual meeting
- Argonne National Lab Undergraduate Research Symposium
- Association of American Geographers annual meeting
- Central States Anthropology annual meeting
- Kentucky Honors Roundtable
- Kentucky Psychological Association Spring Academic Conference
- Middle Eastern Regional Honors Association annual meeting
- National Collegiate Honors Council
- National Communication Association annual meeting
- National Council for Black Studies annual conference
- Neurosciences Research Symposium
- Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
- Southern Criminal Justice Association conference
- Women in Law Enforcement conference
The departments of philosophy and chemistry host their own undergraduate research symposia, featuring student papers from the University of Louisville and from other regional universities. Women’s and gender studies awards the Carolyn Krause Maddox Prize each year to the author of the best undergraduate paper from any discipline that addresses a topic related to women and gender. Recipients present their papers at a public colloquium during Women’s History Month in March.
The university-wide undergraduate research symposium, which takes place at the close of every semester, provides a forum in which undergraduates from all disciplines can showcase their research and creative activity through poster presentations, exhibits, and performances. Participating students gain valuable experience in oral and graphic presentation, while engaging with faculty and others in the community in discussions about cutting-edge research topics and their relation to education more broadly conceived.
In addition, undergraduates from all disciplines are encouraged to participate in the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Posters-at-the-Capitol exhibit in Frankfort every January. The exhibit is designed to celebrate the research, scholarship, and creative accomplishments of students at Kentucky’s eight public universities and to provide legislators with a better understanding of the importance of faculty-mentored undergraduate scholarship. Each year between 12 and 15 University of Louisville undergraduates present at this event.