As recruitment for the next LSE GROUPS session opens, the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Dr Ellis Saxey shares insights into the experiences of two LSE GROUPS participants who had the chance to present their research at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research earlier this year.

students clapping in classroom

The British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) is a unique occasion: a showcase for the original research of undergraduate students, across all disciplines.

Universities have been historically sceptical of undergraduates’ capacity to conduct research, often requiring students to ‘learn the basics’ rather than creating their own knowledge. But BCUR demonstrates that students can learn a subject area deeply, and engage thoroughly, by conducting research of their own.

This is also the principle behind LSE GROUPS, LSE’s undergraduate research project. It’s fitting, therefore, that for several years, student groups from GROUPS have presented their work at BCUR. The prize winners of GROUPS (chosen by a panel of judges, and by their peers) get funds to take their work to a wider stage. This year, two groups presented, and two individuals (Robert and Jimmy) reported back.

ReGROUPing

BCUR was, for both participants, a welcome chance to return to their GROUPS project and their discoveries. Jimmy described the benefits of the original process: “thanks to having discussed every single bit as a group, every group mate knows our research well and has the confidence to talk about our work on stage.” GROUPS participants also have the opportunity to present their work in a formal conference environment, and Robert noted the benefits of this: “unlike some of the others [at BCUR], we had presented our research before as part of the GROUPS project… we felt well prepared.”

But both groups needed to revisit their material. Robert reports:

The challenge was that BCUR was almost a year after the original project and so remembering the specific content about the literature review was difficult and required some ‘revision’ time.

Jimmy’s group met up, redistributed the material, and practiced repeatedly, after which “our presentation was quite natural and fluent.”

Both attendees were impressed by the range and scale of material presented at BCUR.:

Although it is a conference targeted at undergraduates, it is just as professional as any other academic conferences I have been to. There were hundreds of research results displayed from a wide range of disciplines at different degrees of completion. It is simply enjoyable to have the chance to read others’ work and get to find out about areas that I didn’t know much about. (Jimmy)

The highlight for me was attending the poster session which is similar to our own LSE Research Festival. I saw some really interesting projects, from language gaps in reading, to identifying Markov chains in music. I felt the conference was a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved by undergraduates. (Robert)

Creating through conflict

While the BCUR is interdisciplinary in what it presents, the GROUPS projects are interdisciplinary in their very creation. As Jimmy noted, “our mixed backgrounds led to conflicts in the exchange of ideas but these conflicts are also what made our research more critical and professional.”  This gave both groups a head start in presenting to an audience from across the disciplines.

Robert’s group presented alongside an engineering student and a scientist, “which made things challenging as we had to pitch to a wide group… in both [GROUPS and BCUR] we had to ensure our research could be understood by non-experts, which is challenging but also rewarding.”

The interdisciplinarity at BCUR generated useful criticism from unanticipated directions. Robert’s group “got interesting perspectives on our methodology and in turn got the opportunity to challenge others on their approaches.” Jimmy’s group also appreciated the feedback: “Our Q&A session was very popular and their questions allowed us to talk about our paper in a deeper and more responsive way. It is, honestly speaking, a stimulating and interactive learning experience.”

Skilling up and forging forwards

The BCUR also sharpened the abilities which the students had begun to develop during the GROUPS project. Jimmy noted his improved ability to work in a team and present his own work, “which is extremely valuable”.  Robert touched on the same areas:

After taking part in such a unique and valuable research experience, my academic writing and presentation abilities were greatly improved. At the same time, I think my soft skills, especially communication and working as a group, were honed in these two intense weeks. These skills are very useful to my studies and future work, and even to my daily life.

Both groups found BCUR challenging and invigorating, and for Robert’s group it may be a launch-pad to future achievements:

Overall it was an amazing experience as it allowed us to meet similar people and gain interesting feedback on our work. Moreover following from the session people have requested to read our paper and help it to be published, which would not have been possible without the conference.

If you are an undergraduate student at LSE, or if you teach at the School and know anyone who would like to participate this year, applications are now open! You can find out more details and apply on the TLC’s GROUPS webpage.

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