W&M Libraries support undergraduate research with new offerings

By Jordan Williams, William & Mary Libraries

William & Mary Libraries is supporting and celebrating student research during Undergraduate Research Month by hosting an inaugural student writers retreat and presenting its annual research awards in April.

The Honors Thesis Writers Retreat will be held in Swem Library April 11-14. Modeled after the library’s Faculty Writers Retreat, the purpose is to give students uninterrupted time to work on their honors thesis papers.

“We had so many positive comments from the faculty writers retreat that we decided to replicate the program for our undergraduate students,” said Lisa Nickel, associate dean of research & public services. “Our goal is to support students working on their honors theses by providing them dedicated time to focus on their research.”

The upcoming event will provide students with reserved study spaces in Swem, along with meals and programs designed to help them enrich their research skillset. The event’s partners include the Charles Center, Center for Geospatial Analysis and Writing Resources Center. 

A student sharing her work during the 2019 Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“Supporting undergraduate research is important because students are not just consumers of information, they are applying research and creating new knowledge through their work,” said Nickel.

Daniel Cristol, faculty director of undergraduate research, is excited to give students the same experience faculty gain from the retreat. Cristol is one of the pioneers in creating Undergraduate Research Month.

In the past, undergraduate research events were sprinkled throughout the academic calendar. In 2020, undergraduate research week was created to consolidate events. But there were more events than a week could handle, Cristol said. Thus, undergraduate research month was created. 

A student sharing her work during the 2019 Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium.

“This year will be undergraduate research month 2.0,” said Cristol. “We will have both in-person and virtual options, with programs happening nearly every day.”

Cristol added that W&M Libraries has been a quality partner for many years.

“The good researcher always has to make sure what they are doing is novel. The way to do that is by mastering the entire field, and that’s why they seek help from the library,” said Cristol. “The question of what’s already known is the first part of research, and the library is there to provide those answers.”

In addition to the retreat, W&M Libraries will be recognizing excellent research papers through its Undergraduate Research Awards, which rewards creative and original library research and is open to all students, not just those working on honors theses.

Cash prizes will be given to the students whose research papers best demonstrate information-gathering skills and exemplary use of library tools and resources.

“We wanted to focus on the research skills we help support,” said Mary Oberlies, instruction & research librarian and coordinator of the awards. “We develop information literacy by teaching how to search for information, synthesis it and apply that information to a research question. This award recognizes that type of scholarship.”

Overall, Oberlies shared it’s important to help students feel like they are contributing to scholarly conversations.

“As an undergraduate student, it can be difficult to see your work making an impact in the larger academic scope,” Oberlies said. “However, this award will help demonstrate the value of their research efforts.”