Becca Potton/Adeola Akande Pierre-Noel.
LSE US Centre.
The US Centre’s Undergraduate Research Assistantship is an opportunity for students to involve themselves in internationally-oriented scholarship on America’s changing role in the world. Collaborating over the course of a year, students are paired with academics who require assistance in processing new data, gathering archival resources, writing-up a blog article, or conducting library searches.
Second and third year undergraduate students and academics at LSE.
The US Centre successfully secured funding from LSE alumni for a second year to run the Undergraduate Research Assistantship 2018/19. The Centre approached its Faculty Affiliates offering the opportunity to have a research assistant for the course of the academic year, to help on a research project. This year, the call to Affiliates was sent out at the beginning of August with a deadline of the beginning of September. Academics were asked to provide a short description of the project and tasks the research assistant would be involved in. This year we have two faculty members involved who are currently based overseas. The Centre actively encourages new ways of working and the incorporation of new technology, therefore this set up has been very successfully and has added a new dimension to the programme. Being able to provide students with partnerships with academics at prestigious universities like the University of Sydney and Columbia University offers another dimension to the programme.
Once proposals from Faculty had been submitted a call was sent out to students. They were asked to complete an application form detailing why they believed they were suitable for the role and for the project they had chosen. This call was sent a week before students came back for Michaelmas term. The assistantship was promoted on the Career Hub, Student Hub, via our website and social media channels. The application deadline was 3 weeks later. Applications were longlisted against criteria used in the job advert. Five of the top applications for each research project were sent to the academic leads to choose their assistant. The academics, where they could, had an informal meeting or telephone conversation with applicants to discuss their suitability for the role.
Once the successful research assistants had been offered the role we held a ‘meet and greet’ session with the research assistants, their academic leads, two of the previous research assistants and an academic lead from the previous cohort. The evening was extremely successful and was a way for the assistants to meet each other and hear about the experiences of those on last year’s programme.
The research assistants are hired on hourly paid contracts. Before the payroll deadline of each month the research assistants send through their timesheets with the number of hours worked and confirmation from their supervisor. Assistants are hired in total for 100 hours, therefore it is encouraged, and checked, that these hours are spread as evenly as possible over the academic year.
The research assistants are hosted by the Centre but work solely with their academic supervisor throughout the year.
A motivation to enact this was to create relationships between the US Centre and the student body. The Centre does not take part in teaching which means we have limited contact with students apart from our extensive events programme, therefore the assistantship provides an opportunity for us to help shape the student experience.
The Undergraduate Research Assistantship equips students with tools and skills which supplement their learning both in and outside of the classroom. The program allows for students to build upon skills needed to collect and manage primary research data, such as gathering archival resources, writing-up blog articles, or conducting library searches. In addition to this, students are able to develop soft skills such as time management, organisation and managing a high workload. Each set of skills are vital for students’ undergraduate studies and provides them with a highly desirable and marketable set of abilities when it comes to job searching.
Furthermore, feedback from academics who have been involved with the programme has illustrated that it has been of great help to them. Dr James Morrison, International Relations, told us it was extremely useful to him as a scholar to have someone checking in with him and keeping him on track. The assistant, in turn, was able to impose an order on the numerous documents he had. The assistant was able to do what a computer could not in a reliable fashion and what is also too much for a single scholar. The assistant, for James, added real value.
Additionally, all students involved went on to secure graduate job roles or further study. We were told that when students attended job interviews employers were very interested in their participation in the programme and wanted to learn more about it.
The US Centre manager was also asked to participate in the Students First campaign to promote how the Centre adds to the student experience after a successful first year of the programme.
Adeola Akande Pierre-Noel, LSE US Centre Manager – ‘Being an LSE student is more than just coursework and qualifications – it’s also about starting to build a career. That is why we are immensely proud of the five Undergraduate Research Assistantships we’re offering this year. This donor-funded programme runs until 2021, and is an opportunity for undergraduates to work directly with academic faculty on challenging US-related interdisciplinary research.’
We have now secured funding to run the programme every year until 2021. Moving forward we would like to showcase and publicise the research which comes out of the programme. This year we are actively encouraging the research assistants to submit their work for the LSE Festival research competition. We would also like to make this a permanent programme at the US Centre and expand it to be able to offer more students research assistant positions, if we are successful in securing more funding. The US Centre aims to be the model other Centre’s can replicate their own Undergraduate Research Assistant Programme.
The advice we would give to others is to start the process as early as possible and decide time scales in advance. This provides a clear outline to guide the process. Some aspects of the process took longer than others, for example we sent out the call for research proposals to academics during the summer. Consequently, it took several months for us to receive five proposals. On the contrary, we only opened applications to students for two weeks and received 82 applications. Having deadlines helped us to have a clear idea of how long applications would be open for and how long we had to review them. In addition to this, having simple but strong criteria for shortlisting was extremely helpful when faced with a large volume of applications. This allowed a quick and efficient longlisting with a clear idea of who were the strong candidates. It is also advised to be watchful of the forms students are completing. Students were asked to rank their preferences of projects in the form, however many had to be emailed and reminded to do so. Finally, we recommend keeping research projects relevant to the department, centre or institute, however the subject matter can be kept fairly flexible. This allows for a breadth of projects that will appeal to a range of students.