Imagining the Benefits
It is certainly not limited to only the experiences at Colby that the benefits of Undergraduate-Faculty Research far outweigh the challenges. Nonetheless, it is crucial to consider both challenges and rewards when pursuing collaborative research. And although student-faculty research is initially always another opportunity for teaching, the relationship is, ideally, never without symbiotic benefits. It is therefore key to accept that discovery and exploration in collaborative research can and should be mutual. Students’ gains vary greatly depending on each project, but most often encompass opportunities for professionalization, linguistic and cultural training, and simply the opportunity to strength one’s résumé for future career decisions. Faculty profit in various ways as collaboration with students makes the ideal of interconnecting research and teaching possible. Additionally, the advancement of one’s own research profile can become equally important as the prospect of exploring new research projects. In the end, the collaborative process of engagement and exploration itself also often benefits the respective program or department in different ways. One can imagine that among these rewards there are tangible research products that can help programs via curricular enhancement and productive student engagement. Examples include the aforementioned database of reading resources at Colby and Bates, different oral history projects (e.g., on Munich’s Jewish community at the College of William and Mary[xv]) or documentary film-making (e.g., the Memory and Film-project at Davidson College[xvi]).
Equally, if not more important for every program that engages students through research opportunities is the degree in which student collaborators become more fully integrated into the institutional fabric. While it may ultimately require the creation of a sustained program of student research in order to assess any long-term benefits for a program, student collaborators at Colby have shared that research has helped them feel as part of an academic community and not solely as students. Informal interviews with collaborators as well as with prospective students have shown that student engagement through research significantly contributes to a perceived sense of importance and relevance of students’ work.[xvii] Student collaborators attest that their research involvement positively revises their long-term attitude toward their studies in general and German in particular. A sense of productive engagement is thus coupled with the recognition that their work matters. While their research may be equally or more challenging than their course work, student collaborators have repeatedly indicated that their work provided a greater feeling of accomplishment than what they have gained from yet another paper written for a class. Moreover, students have commented that their vitae were clearly strengthened as a result of their work and that they learned successfully how to engage a subject both intellectually and linguistically in an independent fashion. The following brief excerpt from a student reflection on the topic of faculty-student collaborative research underscores the many positives from a student point of view:
“By completing this research, especially the much more intensive summer research, I have greatly expanded my knowledge of German, Swiss and Austrian current events. I read a lot of news and cultural articles – many more than I actually ended up including as a text for the curriculum. I also improved upon my general cultural knowledge of different regions of the German-speaking world, and appreciate different areas I have not yet been able to visit. I also was able to read a large variety of authors and stories I had not yet been exposed to, something very beneficial for me personally as a German major. […] Research in the traditional humanities at liberal arts schools such as Colby should be expanded because the students themselves are an under-utilized resource for departments and professors, research enhances student CVs while providing the student with learning experiences that can not [sic] be duplicated inside a classroom, and research enables a more complete exchange of ideas between students and professors. The personal gains and progress I have made in more fully understanding German culture and language, my conception of teaching and putting together a curriculum, and the professional skills I have developed are the result of my positive research experiences.”