Research Connects Faculty
in their field
BY AMANDA CANTU
The role of research at a university is critical for both students and faculty.
Participating in research projects allows students the opportunity to hone skills that
will prove useful in the classroom as well as in the workplace, while it allows faculty
members to stay current in their areas of expertise and bring that knowledge into the
Midwestern State University Provost Dr. Betty Stewart, whose research interests
include the study of protein structure and function, has been actively involved
in research since her years as an upper level undergraduate student studying
biochemistry at Mississippi State University, and her fondness for research has
continued to grow since that time. However, she understands that the right time to
begin research is different for each person.
As a freshman, a chemistry professor invited me to work on a research project
with him, but I did not feel like I had the right background at that time,” Stewart
said. “But, when I was a junior, I had the opportunity to participate in a summer
undergraduate research project. It was a great experience and helped me to know
what I wanted to do. Since that time, research has become something I really enjoy.”
Stewart’s experiences with research have instilled in her the belief that research is
an excellent tool to use to connect with students.
Faculty members can bring research papers into the classroom that correspond
with the topic being covered for students to review as a way to add knowledge that
is not in the textbook. Professors may also bring in a project they have been thinking
about pursuing and get the students to try it out to see if it works. That is a great way
to engage students,” Stewart said.
When Stewart was teaching chemistry, she brought her own research in the
laboratory as a way to challenge and involve students.
As a professor, I used to bring my research publications into the laboratory
and ask the students to try to reproduce my experiment and see if they could get a
similar result,” she said. “It was a great way to challenge the accuracy of a study, and
they loved it. The greatest joy for them was trying to prove the professor wrong, but
whether the students reproduced or disproved the results, it left them with a great
sense of accomplishment.”
Stewart believes that the skills students develop from participating in research will
benefit them even after graduation.
A variety of skills are acquired through the research process. There is a sense of
confidence that comes with being able to solve problems in the laboratory or in the
classroom. Students are able to take away the knowledge they have gained from the
textbook and apply it to a problem they are trying to solve. Students are able to put
it all together for the first time,” Stewart said. “Research work allows students to use
analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, which will help them as they
move forward with graduate work or other paths they choose to pursue.”
Stewart has seen first hand the positive influence research has on students. “Every
student I have had has performed better in the classroom after completing research,”
Research is an important tool for faculty as well, and Stewart offered a piece of
advice for faculty members when it comes to writing grants.
Don’t give up.Writing a successful grant takes multiple attempts. Each time
results come back from a reviewer, take the feedback seriously and make the
necessary revisions. It will get easier after each attempt, so don’t become discouraged
with the first negative review. Use it as an opportunity to refine the research,” Stewart
said. “Good grant writing comes with practice. It’s a progression.”