Making Lemonade, Take Two: The Second Undergraduate Research Summer Workshop Series

Posted on August 16, 2021

This summer, the Research Department at William & Mary Libraries reprised a workshop series for undergraduate researchers that we’d first held in Summer 2020 as a response to the pandemic. We built on the success of last year’s series to offer greater variety, expanded topics, and more flexibility for students. Our work paid off – nearly 100 students participated in the workshop series, with most attending more than one workshop!   

The series first began in 2020, when we collaborated with Dan Cristol, Director of Undergraduate Research, to create and conduct a series of mini-courses enhancing the summer research experience for undergrads. The COVID-19 pandemic had limited these students’ opportunities to engage fully in the research process compared to years past, and by offering mini workshops in topics like finding primary sources, writing literature reviews, and inclusive citation practices, we found a way to add value to their unexpectedly remote summer research experience. When it became clear that this summer would present similar challenges, we were eager to help out again and further connect with undergraduate researchers.

Partnership and collaboration were strong themes in planning this summer’s series. We enlisted the help of colleagues both in the library and across campus to provide an expanded repertoire of workshops. “I co-taught with Anna Milholland, the Business Librarian. We've talked informally about how to measure the impact of research, and our class gave us an opportunity to dig deep into the issues and examine the history, usage, and challenges of metrics like citation counts and journal impact factors,” said Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Research. Experts from the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center also contributed to workshops on “Oral Histories: What Are They and How Do I Do One?” and “Research with Primary Sources.” Some research librarians got a rare chance to discuss the world of research and information holistically in the entertaining and conversational “Information Consumer’s Toolkit.” Finally, as research and writing practices are so closely tied, Lori Jacobson, Director of the Writing Resources Center, partnered with us to hold workshops on writing and presenting with research, which were all very well attended.

Reaching outside of the Research Department not only allowed us to offer different research-related topics than our usual slate; it provided an impetus to try unconventional workshop formats. Of his partnership with Meghan Bryant from the SCRC on the Research with Primary Sources workshop, Coordinator of Instruction Paul Showalter said “it was almost like I had some kind of show, like a vodcast, where I interview experts on various topics. So all I had to do was tee up a handful of good questions for Meghan and stand back while she rained the knowledge down on the audience.” And students loved the unique format of these sessions. In their feedback on the Information Consumer’s Toolkit, one student wrote, “it's always fun to see two people who are both super passionate about what they do have a genuine conversation!”

All in all, the undergraduate researchers got a lot out of this workshop series, providing glowing reviews when asked to assess their experience as participants. While shocking exactly none of us librarians, some students discussed their surprise and pleasure in discovering that there is still more to learn about research, even after attending library sessions in the past for in-class instruction. One student reported feeling inspired to publish the output of their summer research after considering its potential implications on the research field during the “How Scholars and Researchers Measure Their Impact” workshop. And in true TWAMP fashion, many attendees admitted to attending certain workshops not because they applied to their summer research, but just because they sounded interesting.

Summers in the library can be quiet at times, and the Undergraduate Research Mini-Courses certainly livened things up for us in the Research department. The end result was extremely positive for the Office of Undergraduate Research, too – according to Dan Cristol, “I judge this to have been a big success from our perspective.” We hope to provide opportunities like this in the future, expanding our workshop toolkit and creating even more space for collaboration.