Undergraduate Research

Students in the Department of Political Science at Western Michigan University will have the opportunity to conduct research for a project or in a class.

The ability to research and write is one of the most valuable skills you can take with you into the world of employment or post-graduate education. You will certainly encounter research paper assignments in many of your classes, but a piece of more extensive, perhaps original research under the guidance of a faculty member is a distinct accomplishment valued by many employers and admissions committees. You can get credit for undertaking a research project and there are even sources on campus for funding for student research projects

Although most student research projects beyond class papers are for honors theses, it's not necessary to be in the honors program in order to engage in a research project. What all research projects have in common is the need for a specific topic of research, which is developed with guidance from a faculty advisor, and a plan and realistic timetable for the completion of the project. For most research projects, nothing less than a semester is feasible, and most students find that a semester is not enough. Students who plan to travel as part of their research—to conduct field research or travel to an archive, for example—must plan for time for trip preparation.

Selecting a topic

Selecting a topic is harder than you think. Sometimes selection of the topic comes only after reading a lot and discussing ideas with your advisor. Usually topics starts out general and unwieldy; only with work will your initial idea take on the focus and scope of a researchable topic. Allow time to develop a good topic in conjunction with your advisor.

Selecting an advisor

For honor theses and for funded research projects (anything that garners academic credit or applies toward your degree) you must select a research advisor. For honors theses, you must also select two other committee members. Select an advisor who knows something about the general topic area you are choosing. Approach a likely advisor early in the process to discuss both your topic idea and the possibility of her or him serving as your advisor. This is a joint decision; both of you have to be comfortable with each other.

Funding sources at WMU

College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Award

The College of Arts and Sciences, of which the Department of Political Science is a part, offers up to $500 to support undergraduate research projects.

Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Support Fund

Administered by the Lee Honors College, this fund provides up to $1,200 in the form of a stipend, expenses or both. Enrollment in the honors college is not a requirement. See the assistant dean of the Lee Honors College to get advice on the submission process.

Participation in faculty research

An alternative to taking on a research project of your own is to participate in a faculty member's research. Most faculty have ongoing research projects and often a student research assistant can prove valuable to a faculty member. Talk it over with a faculty member whose interests reflect yours. Take this seriously; even though it may be extracurricular, unpaid work, it is to be approached very responsibly. Work with your faculty supervisor to figure out what you can do and how much time you can devote to it. Then make a commitment, and stick to it. The experience you gain can be very helpful when applying to graduate or law schools.