Josh Akman: Selling research to students

A few weeks ago, students received multiple e-mails regarding an undergraduate research symposium that few knew existed. For most GW students, undergraduate research means required papers and possibly a senior thesis. Yet alongside GW’s attempts to increase its academic reputation, it is crucial that undergraduate research be emphasized on this campus – especially by the students themselves.

Regardless of our decent academic status and the number of exciting projects propelled by students on this campus, GW still lacks the undergraduate research considered crucial at many other universities. We may have the International Affairs Society’s journal and a political science quarterly, but these are both student-run commentary journals.

The reason for this is simple. We simply do not find research that important.

From the administration of the University down to the students, purely intellectual research opportunities are not a very high priority. Instead, we all search for that internship, for that one contact that will be our ticket into our chosen field. But until we begin to give the research opportunity at least a fair shot against the internship, we are selling ourselves short as students.

Starting from Colonial Inauguration, we are repeatedly indoctrinated with the religion of internships. We are told that 99.9 percent of all students have had at least one internship, and we all imagine those few unfortunate internship-less students working at a McDonald’s somewhere. These internships are, admittedly, very important. They give us a glimpse at the reality of our chosen field, as well as providing us with guides in this field. One thing that these internships don’t provide us with, though, is an actual opportunity to think. With little exception, we never rise above the menial tasks of stapling and filing. While we might make some great contacts, and see life on the “inside” of our profession, what kind of job candidates are we? Besides the free labor, we cannot actually provide anything to a prospective employer.

This would be different, though, if we exchanged the internship with the occasional research opportunity. Instead, by taking part in the intellectual pursuit of a discipline, we can actually generate an original thought on a subject, and offer a reasonable hypothesis about something. By becoming involved in a think tank, for instance, we can actually effect some positive change outside our stapling abilities.

On some college campuses, the competition to become involved in a scholarly journal is cutthroat. These journals, whether in law, medicine or any other field, offer undergraduates an opportunity to conduct real research and have their names published in the academic community. Here at GW, however, we cannot generate enough interest to even create these journals. We have a top-20 law school and a reputable medical school, yet we are unable to create any undergraduate interest in either of these topics. This shows how much we are missing out. Not only is taking part in a journal an “internship for graduate school,” as we get a first glimpse at what we will be required to do at the graduate level, but it allows us share ideas with like-minded individuals.

GW does of course have the Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research and an undergraduate research journal, Inquiry. But with over 10,000 undergraduates, we can do more. Students should demand more and be willing to work for a strong undergraduate research community.

But it’s not entirely the fault of the students. This change in GW culture must come from all levels of the University. While touting internships is not wrong, doing so at the expense of any other intellectual pursuits only hurts students and ultimately, GW. By providing the reasoning that internship experiences are the only methods by which to get jobs, the administration is diminishing the emphasis that any student will place on research. To put it frankly, the University administration has done a masterful job of making the internship “sexy.” Now, it is their responsibility to “sex up” the idea of research.

We need to stop considering outside research opportunities as unwanted homework, and we need to instead realize that they offer an excellent way to make a great impact on our chosen field. Administrators, as well as the students, need to expand GW’s horizons and finally bring the emphasis back to education. After all, we have already mastered stapling – we’ll tackle the copy machine next week.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in criminal justice.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.