An Undergraduate’s Reflection on the AEJMC Annual Conference

By: Amr A. Elafifi, Undergraduate Research Ambassador, University of Kansas

In my first semester, I enrolled in an independent study because I needed an extra class. Every semester since, I’ve been able to work on a research project with a fellow student or a faculty member. Research is a daunting process full of obscurities and gaps to be investigated that often are not expressed in textbooks or even classrooms. The critical skills higher education allegedly supplements its students could be overseen by the degree of certainty expressed by professors throughout one’s college career.

The project my co-author and I presented last August taught me a lot. I learned how to construct a survey, write consent forms, fill out IRB applications and dig for literature. I had to contact over a hundred journalists in Egypt and follow-up with them regarding any questions they had about the project. Most of the work I did he could’ve done in half the time; but he took the time to help me. His encouragement and patience were crucial.

My co-author was a graduate teaching assistant with which I was acquainted with, but involving undergraduate students doesn’t always have to go this route. Assignments in methods classes could be structured to investigate a particular question and finally written cohesively into a research paper, or a reasonable start to one. Specifically in Media Studies, professors have the opportunity to teach students how to code texts, construct surveys, or hold scholarly interviews. In large introductory classes, teaching assistants could speak to students about their own research. This is particularly important for journalism and other fields that don’t have typical labs, as many of the students we speak to don’t know that research in these fields exist. Students could be encouraged to attend brown-bag sessions where graduate students share their work or even graduate-level classes. Departments can also offer scholarships to undergraduate researchers to incentivize students to work on research, which should not be too hard because most professors I’ve dealt with have been very kind, encouraging, and supportive.

This semester, I am an undergraduate research ambassador at the University of Kansas. As ambassadors we are hired by the Center of Undergraduate Research to visit classes and talk to the students about research and how they could get involved. The office has research awards (worth $1,000) and travel awards (worth $500) that we promote too. Finally, we help organize events that host work that is being done to encourage students.

Finally, attending an academic conference was important to me because it humanized a very abstract academic community I aspire to be a part of. The most enjoyable part of the conference was witnessing the professor’s curiosity closely and their critical faculties coming to play. In a presentation on oral histories for instance, the presenter and a faculty member attending had a heated discussion about the real difference between it and long journalistic stories. Furthermore, I was able to meet some of the scholars I’d only known through their work—which was very inspiring.

At the time of this writing, college campuses are undergoing political contentions, as are some cities around the country. If there is an epistemic value to a democracy we can truly appreciate and live with, it is one that must be characterized be deepened respect and understanding. That is, one that does not appreciate fetishized generalization. This is perhaps the timeliest reason why the tools deeper readings and critical assessments should be shared with students.

 

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