How an Undergraduate Researcher Turned a Passionate Project into a Published Essay
In their book Undergraduate Research in English Studies, editors Laurie Grobman and Joyce Kinkead (2010) issued “a clarion call for the integration of undergraduate research in English studies” (p. x). They suggested that “As faculty, we need to articulate our methodology, define appropriate tasks for students, and ask for authentic scholarship” (p. x). They also argued that such work offers important “benefits to the discipline(s) of English studies” (p. xxviii) because “students engaged in genuine research gain an insider’s understanding of field-specific debates, develop relevant skills and insights for future careers and graduate study, and most important, contribute their voices to creating knowledge through the research process” (p. ix).
Marta Figlerowicz (2010), who published her work as an undergraduate researcher, supported Grobman and Kinkead’s point and argued that “it is possible, and beneficial, for students to attempt to bridge the gap between undergraduate essays and professionally publishable papers” (p. 119). Figlerowicz outlined several conditions for success, claiming first that “It is fair to say that an undergraduate is sometimes capable of preparing an innovative academic paper that is entirely her own in terms of authorship” (p. 119). However, she noted that a writer’s intellectual ability and capacity do not preclude the need for careful intervention and mentoring: “the additional help a student requires to publish even a laboriously researched course essay cannot be underestimated, nor can the value of a faculty member’s assistance” (p. 119). According to Figlerowicz, such success may have still another component: “It is also true that, to be able to learn from the frequently difficult stages of transitioning toward professional publication, a student has to show a lot of self-driven motivation and persistence” (p. 119). The larger message seems to be that such important work involves the extensive mentoring of students by faculty and much self-drive (e.g. persistence and passion) by dedicated student authors. To those ends, Grobman and Kinkead
offered some important questions:
What happens in humanistic inquiry? It is actually quite similar to other disciplines and may be outlined as follows: the identification of and acquisition of a disciplinary or interdisciplinary methodology; the setting out of a concrete investigative problem; the carrying out of the actual project; and finally, the dispersing or sharing of a new scholar’s discoveries with his or her peers—a step often missing in undergraduate educational programs. How often do we unpack this methodology in our classrooms for our students? (pp. x-xi)
“Anatomy of an Article” seeks to trace and illuminate one such unpacking. This case study examines the ways that an undergraduate researcher revised one of his essays from a classroom seminar project and turned it into a published article in a scholarly refereed journal. The author, Jonathan Pearson, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from University of MissouriKansas City in May 2009. The journal, Young Scholars in Writing (YSW), is dedicated to helping undergraduates publish their research and scholarship in the discipline of rhetoric and composition. Jonathan’s journey toward publication covers a time period from 2004–2010 and documents the author’s and the article’s most important streams of input. Those streams include the writer’s enduring passion for his subject and the ongoing mentoring he received from his teacher, Professor Jane Greer, and from Professor Patti Hanlon-Baker, one of the journal’s editorial board members. Jonathan’s project is an analysis of politician Hillary Rodham’s development as a public rhetor during her years at Wellesley College and Yale University. I call this text “Anatomy of an Article” because it examines the ongoing project of pursuing ideas across time, venues, and genres in an evolving text that, according to its author, “changed from 12 to 8 pages, back to 12, and then 20 pages.”
In “Undergraduate Research Fellows and Faculty Mentors in Literary Studies,” Christine F. Cooper-Rompato, Evelyn Funda, Joyce Kinkead, Amanda Marinello, and Scarlet Fronk (2010) identified two key components to successful undergraduate research. The first is to “Be sure the student takes an active role and is a decision-maker in the faculty-student relationship” (p. 156). The second component is geared toward teachers, asking them to “Be reflective and ask students to be reflective as well.” They argued that “In order to make this experience effective, students need to be self-conscious about their research process” (p. 156). This case study will spotlight an evolving occasion where active learning and reflection were practiced and supported by all participants. This essay will also highlight Jonathan’s process of intellectual development and spotlight the textual revisions he made as he pursued his project across multiple venues, media, and genres while seeking and negotiating important input from his classroom teacher and from one of the journal’s faculty-advisor editors.
In reporting and commenting on several interviews with each of these individuals, I highlight the processes of ongoing conversation, mentoring and learning that occurred for all participants as the author’s project evolved. The story I tell here is two-fold. First, I will show how pursuing one’s “passion”—one’s strong feelings about and deep commitment to a subject—across time and in multiple venues involves seeing and re-seeing one’s work, ideas and texts again and anew. Second, I will explore how the process of collaborating in order to mentor student work toward publication provides rigorous and sometimes surprising learning experiences for all involved. This is especially true in the case of YSW, which offers extensive mentoring and intellectual support to undergraduate writers as they make their research and scholarship more visible and more public.
In tracing Jonathan’s evolution from writing a tribute paper to Hillary Rodham to crafting a complicated argument involving detailed rhetorical analysis of her work, I will show how the project of coming to meaning was inherently multimodal and performative and had several ongoing streams of intellectual input and mentoring. Those streams involved the author’s personal investments and embedded opportunities (e.g. creating a tribute video and giving two oral presentations) for public performance and textual revision. Most of all, in pursuing and refining his project, the writer was asked to repeatedly call upon and extend his passion for his subject. My goal here is to show how passion plays into our reading and writing activities, plays on in our research, and plays out in our interactions with those who support us as we pursue our goals.