The Honors program encourages student research both inside and outside of the classroom. Not only is research at the heart of intellectual inquiry and learning, but it also helps prepare students for their lives beyond college, whether that involves graduate school, a specific profession, or other plans. In recognition of the complexity of today's world, the program's curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to learning.

As the website for one major medical school explains about the advantages for applicants who have done undergraduate research: "Orientation toward lifelong learning, independent thinking, and decision-making are attributes of an excellent physician. It is to your advantage to participate in activities (e.g., independent study projects, research projects, and courses requiring active involvement, etc.) that will foster those attributes." One could say that such activities would lead to success in any field and these are at the heart of the Honors program.

When you make a proposal for a conference, you have to master the trick of describing your paper or project as if it's completed, even though it may exist only in your imagination or in the form of a rough outline. Nevertheless, writing abstracts is a valuable skill to master for all Honors students, for wherever you end up after college, you will be asked to describe ideas and projects (and why they make sense) for specific audiences to secure funding, get promoted, or win contracts. Here are a few tips on doing a good job.

  1. Model your abstract on examples from the discipline. Find examples of abstracts from your particular discipline and model your writing on that example. You are trying to appeal to a specific audience that expects a certain format and vocabulary. It would also be a good idea to have a professor in your particular field of study review a draft of your abstract. For Honors conferences and other interdisciplinary meetings, avoid too much jargon and remember that you are writing for (and will eventually be speaking to) a non-specialist but learned audience.

    Example Journal Abstracts
  2. Contextualize your work within some specific context. Show how your work relates to other work in the field. Academic work functions on one level as a continuing conversation in which writers and thinkers are always measuring their ideas against those of each other. You can use a quotation from a prominent person in the discipline to show where your work fits into this larger conversation. If you take issue with the work of another writer, show specifically how your project departs from that work. You can also provide historical, cultural, or theoretical contexts that might shed light on your approach.

  3. Balance specifics and larger issues. Try to work back and forth between the specifics of your project and some of the larger implications for your work. In other words, at some point you need to at least try to demonstrate what is important or significant about your work.

  4. Pay attention to the writing. All the writing instruction that you have received over the years really matters here. Write concisely (you usually only have 100–250 words to get your point across). Use strong verbs that assert your point vigorously (except in disciplines where it is more appropriate to employ passive voice). Be direct and avoid verbosity (instead of writing, "I hope to show through my study that the acidity levels in the stream might have risen," write "This study demonstrates causes and effects of increases in acidity rates"). Be as specific as possible (avoid generalities). And revise, revise, revise.

  5. Don't procrastinate. The best abstracts seem like effortless accounts of thrilling projects delivered with the greatest of ease. As the writer George Plimpton once famously remarked about giving public speeches: "the more you sweat in preparation, the less you'll sweat in delivery." The strongest abstracts come about as the result of an enormous amount of thought and work up front, which gives the writer authority to talk about his or her project confidently, specifically, and concisely. Procrastinators can't write good abstracts because the idea must take time to germinate, background reading must be done, and the project must be outlined over time.

  6. Ask for help. Students sometimes have a hard time asking for help (because they see it as a sign of weakness), but all academics have colleagues in their field read their writing—it's an outgrowth of the mentoring system that your professors took part in when they attended graduate school. Conference proposals offer honors students a good way to start engaging in that process.

Westminster College is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC), which sponsors an annual convention attended by about 2,000 undergraduates, professors, and administrators from Honors programs around the country. Representatives from Westminster College attend the convention each year to participate in workshops, attend sessions, and enjoy the many entertaining diversions of the host city. Students who are interested in attending should consult the director of Honors and read the following guidelines about making a proposal. This year's meeting will be on Oct. 12-16, 2016 in Seattle (note: this is right before fall break). Our Honors program typically sends anywhere from 4–8 students to this meeting.

  1. It costs about $1,000–$1,300 per student and we will do our best to underwrite much of that cost for students whose papers are accepted. Certainly we will pay the $450 registration fee for everybody and offset as much as possible the flight and hotel costs, depending on how many proposals are accepted.

  2. Submitting is easy! There are three primary ways for students to participate:

    • A poster session on your own research (i.e. "Biodiversity in the Great Salt Lake")
    • A student panel discussing some aspect of Honors education or administration (i.e. "The New Honors Orientation Program at Westminster College" or "Using Vulnerability in the Honors classroom")
    • An interdisciplinary student research panel, on which you summarize for 15-minute a high-level research paper (i.e. "Gender and Desire in T. S. Eliot")

    Other alternative ways to participate include diversity panels, idea exchanges, roundtables, and master classes. All you need is an idea and a way to describe it clearly. The various types of sessions are described at the conference website which also explains how to submit. You will need to describe your idea for the conference booklet in 500 characters or less. You will have to create an online account before making a proposal. Open and account and submit a proposal.

    To brainstorm about ideas for paper proposals, download an electronic pdf version of the 2015 meeting in Chicago, talk to Honors students who have attended previous conferences (see old copies of Honorable Mention), or swing by my office to chat. Warning: Don't print the conference program, as it's 200+ pages long, though you can search "Westminster" to see the many students who participated.

  3. Professor Badenhausen must sign off on your project by sending NCHC an email certifying your project, so let him know what you are up to—otherwise, NCHC will not accept the submission. Don't wait until the final deadline to do it.

  4. The NCHC runs hundreds of sessions, so be as creative as you want. You can propose a session consisting of just yourself; a session with one, two, or three other students interested in the same topic; or a session with a professor (and other students) from a class.

  5. If you have an idea for a session and are looking for fellow panelists for your proposal (e.g. students who might be interested in the same topic), run your idea by other Westminster College Honors students by sending an email message to the Honors students email distribution list.

  6. Email Richard if you want to talk about your idea or need help writing your 500-character description and 1500-character abstract. Submission of a proposal is your acknowledgment that you will attend NCHC if your application is accepted.

The emphasis on undergraduate research is one of the distinguishing features of Westminster College's Honors program. One outlet for student research is to publish in journals that emphasize undergraduate writing. Students should work with mentors in individual disciplines to target appropriate outlets for their written work and also consult the Honors director for guidance about submitting their work.

For a comprehensive listing of journals and conferences that accept undergraduate submissions click here. A more extensive list appears at the Undergraduate Research Commons.

Example Journals

The following brief selection of titles gives you a sense of what types of journals accept submissions from undergraduates. Each journal website contains information about submission policies, content, style, and deadlines.

The Dualist: Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy

Created by the undergraduates of Stanford University in 1994, The Dualist publishes undergraduate research "on topics of philosophical interest" in an annual issue each spring/summer. The editors accept submissions until January and old issues are available for viewing online.

Learn More About The Dualist: Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy

Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review

This journal has been publishing "original and scholarly" refereed papers from undergraduates in all academic fields since 1979. It is published by the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh.

Learn More About the Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review

Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Journal

This electronic based journal publishes work by undergraduates on any topic related to math. Articles must be recommended by a mathematician familiar with the writer's work.

Learn More About the Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Journal

Scribendi

This annual journal, published by the Honors Program at the University of New Mexico, solicits work in the areas of prose fiction, essay, poetry, visual art, and photography from students attending schools that belong to the Western Regional Honors Council (WRHC). Westminster College is a member of the WRHC.

Learn More About Scribendi

Undergraduate Economic Review

The UER is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at promoting high quality undergraduate research. It is supported by the Department of Economics and The Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Learn More About the Undergraduate Economic Review

Many scholarship and fellowship opportunities exist for students with outstanding academic records. These awards are not administered through Westminster College's Financial Aid office; rather, they are national and international scholarships that are suitable for students interested in applying for the rigorous competitions that tie in to their undergraduate, graduate, or professional interests. It is best to start thinking about these competitions a few semesters before applying.

Natasha Saje oversees National Fellowships at Westminster College. They are available to help guide students through the fellowship process.

Students should work closely with their advisors because most scholarships require institutional nomination or support. Because of their academic preparation, experience in seminars that emphasize intensive study and discussion of texts, and extensive work on their writing skills, Honors students often make excellent candidates for these competitions.

Learn More About Fellowships Through Westminster College

Undergraduate research can make up an important part of a liberal education and the Honors program believes in helping cultivate these skills in its students. Writing in the winter 2006 issue of Peer Review, Grinnell College psychology professor David Lopatto notes that undergraduate research activities can have a significant positive effect on students' personal development, "including the growth of self confidence, independence, tolerance for obstacles, interest in the discipline, and a sense of accomplishment."

The Honors Program makes two $3,750 Independent Summer Research Awards annually and typically many other Honors students receive summer funding from the college through their Honors research applications. These awards are designed to support Honors students who are conducting high level research during the summer in lieu of a full-time summer job. These projects should lead to conference papers or publishable work. The application process takes place during the spring of each year and is administered by the Honors Council. Application forms are available in the office of the Honors director.

2016–17 Awards

Warren Cook, "Listening to the Spirit of Place: An Oral History of Water in the Snake Valley"

Tim Lindgren, "The Different Shades of Ecocide: Structural Socio-Ecological Injustice in Breaching Planetary Boundaries"

2015–16 AWARDS

Emma DeLoughery, "Retrospective Study of the Pro-coagulants rFVIIa, 4-factor PCC, and a rFVIIa and 3-factor PCC Cocktail in Improving Bleeding Outcomes"

Amanda Howa, "Data Analysis of Online Commercial Sex Trafficking in Salt Lake City"

2014–15 AWARD

Pratik Raghu, "Institutionalizing Indigenous Empowerment: A Critical Assessment of the Viability of the Uniterra Model for India's Tribal Peoples"

2013–14 AWARDS

Nicole Bedera, "Never Go Out Alone: Rape Prevention Tips and their Effect on Women's Lives"

Melanie Long, "Assessing the Influence of Gender on Unemployment: A Panel Data Approach"

2012–13 Awards

Jeff Collins, "Temporal Variation of Total Mercury and Methylmercury Content in Great Salt Lake Water and Brine Flies"

Elizabeth Nelson, "Ovarian Cancer in Utah: Incidence, Mortality, and Risks"

2011–12 Awards

Tess Graham, "Pigou versus Minsky: Reconciling Demand Theories through Historical Analysis"

Allie Roach, "Characterization of a Novel Haloarchaeon Genus: Halophiles as a Source of Bioremediation"

2010–11 Awards

Cooper Henderson, "The Institutional Incentive for Corruption within Utah State Government"

Cassidy Jones, "Art and Activism in Escalante Country: An Environmental Literary History"

Tyler Sutton, "The Ethical Evaluation of New Born Screening as an Opt-out Program"

2009–10 Awards

John Cook, "A Tale of Two Crises: An Analysis of Ben Bernanke's Great Depression Hypotheses and Applications to the Financial Crisis of 2008–2009"

Sara Rees, "Genotyping of Mutant Mice to Determine Key Pathways Involved in Inner Ear Development"

Meghan Hekker, "Henry becoming Arthur becoming Henry: Correlations between King Henry II of England and Twelfth-Century Arthurian Literature"

2008–09 Awards

Chert Griffith, "Phage/Host Identification in Salt Lake Halophilic Bacteria"

McKay Holland, "Spinoza in America: Explaining the Philosophical Assumptions for Religious Tolerance in the First Amendment"

Lindsey Roper, "The Protective Properties of Selenium in Apoptotic Cell Death: Discerning Underlying Mechanisms and Their Potential for Pharmacological Intervention"

2007–08 Awards

Sharayah Coleman, "Making Knowing Tangible: A Maternal Reexamination of the Interpersonal Claim to Know God"

Lahdan Heidarian, "Laugh Away the Stress: Salivary Cortisol Samples and the Effects of Laughter on a College Population"

Spencer Woolley, "Molon Labe and Allahu Akbar: A Comparison between the Greco-Persian War and the Second Invasion of Iraq"

2006–07 Awards

Breanne Eddington, "Life in a Salt Crystal: Reviving Desiccated Microorganisms from the North Arm of Great Salt Lake"

Amberlyn Peterson, "Free Energy Analysis of PNA-DNA Nucleotide Mismatches"

Marie Robinson, "Mind Her or Mine Her? The Implications of Feminizing Nature"

2005–06 Awards

Heather Brown, "Their Bodies, Their Selves: Sexuality, Marriage, and Maternity in 20th Century Italian Women's Literature"

Tristan Glenn, "Individualism, Liberalism, and the New Face of American Zen"

Meghan Hamilton, "Meditation and the Posner Paradigm: Influence of Mental Training on Response Time and Accuracy of Attention Tasks"

2004–05 Awards

Mike Accord, "Microbial Biodiversiy of North Arm Great Salt Lake"

Shauna Walker, "Contemporary Applications of Myth and the Rainbow Family"