The Rise and Fall of the Undergraduate Research Project
A project carried out as an independent piece of work, either by an individual student or a very small group, is often included in Business and Management degrees as a capstone activity. At undergraduate level historically the expectation in the British system is that some form of independent study is an essential part of an honours degree although typically this is not formally stated in university regulations. Historically such a project, even at undergraduate level, would have included an element of research and provided an opportunity for students to carry out their own inquiry into an area which had caught their interest. This provided students with research skills which could be adapted to carrying out some form of useful intellectual inquiry in their subsequent careers and gives them an opportunity to focus on particular areas where they have interests. Some students report finding the project a valuable source of material for subsequent job interviews. In recent years there has been a tangible move away from expecting students to do a project at undergraduate level. An effective project needs one-to-one supervision which often places a strain on faculty resources. It is hard to define exactly what would count as an acceptable level of independent scholarship for an undergraduate. It is very hard to ensure a consistently good student experience given a large group of supervisors and a wide range of subjects. Students frequently struggle to see the relevance of research methods to their intended careers. At its worst the project can appear to students as a time when they are left to their own devices with very little support and unclear expectations of what is required of them. Drawing on experiences from a UK business school with a large undergraduate cohort, where the policy up to now has been to retain an independent project in some form within students’ final year, this paper discusses the challenges associated with the move away from independent projects and some ways in which they can be met.
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