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Undergraduate Research

Research reveals fresh insights and tantalizing new questions in our human story. And it fuels scholarship at our school, connecting students and faculty in a collaborative quest for knowledge. Along the way, our students learn to access, analyze, and synthesize data and ideas to reach sound conclusions. This capacity is foundational to careers—and, more broadly, life—in the information age.

So effective are we in this arena that the Council on Undergraduate Research has named TCNJ as a national exemplar, one of the first three institutions in the country to be so recognized.


College to Career: The Value of Research

Digging up archival records for overlooked clues to the past. Sifting through datasets to detect telltale patterns of human behavior. Synthesizing literature reviews to reach an unconventional reading of a canonical novel. Here at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, we are committed to educating our students to be skilled researchers, able to articulate a scholarly question; collect, evaluate, and analyze evidence; and communicate new knowledge.

Our professors, as researchers themselves, introduce students to research methods and processes early in their college careers and challenge them to pursue increasing levels of autonomy over four years. By the end of their senior year, all of our majors will have conducted independent research under the supervision of a faculty mentor. With this strong grounding, our graduates become the go-to employees who know how to frame problems and propose solutions for their organizations.

Research is built into our curriculum through coursework, independent study, and special college-wide programs. All of our faculty members are active scholars pursuing research projects and creative scholarship in their areas of expertise. They are also committed teachers, eager to mentor students in their own research programs or supervise independent projects. Our students often take on a role reserved for graduate students at most universities, becoming junior collaborators on faculty-led research.

Our students conduct research in libraries and archives, at historic sites and art museums, in local neighborhoods and overseas communities. Their explorations have taken them from downtown Trenton for field observations to Mount Kilimanjaro for environmental history research. Here on campus, students have access to specialized facilities to support their work, including:

  • 20 psychological research labs, where students assist faculty with ongoing research programs, from romantic relationships to workplace motivations, from the neuroscience of memory to the biopsychology of alcohol use
  • a digital humanities lab, where history students conduct research, preserve historic documents, and produce public history projects through podcasts, digital galleries, and other new media
  • a physical anthropology lab, where anthropology and criminology students study the human skeleton and collaborate with professors on forensics research projects
  • a quantitative studies lab, where criminology and sociology students analyze datasets and work with geographic information systems (GIS) and other specialized software

Undergraduate research at TCNJ takes center stage at the annual Celebration of Student Achievement, a month-long showcase of student scholarship culminating in a full-day public symposium. Our school sponsors our own HSS Celebration of Student Achievement each December, a daylong event showcasing the research and creative work of dozens of students, with paper presentations, poster displays, panel sessions, and exhibits of creative work.

Ways to Get Involved with Research

Our promise to our majors is that everyone will conduct independent research under the supervision of a faculty member before graduation. Some students choose a topic of their own interest, while others assist a faculty mentor with a component of their ongoing research. We back up our commitment by designing multiple avenues for research experiences into our curriculum.

Take a research-oriented course. Nearly all of our courses integrate research in some way, and many have significant research components. Students in an oral history course, for example, learn the art of interviewing witnesses to historic events and then travel the state to record the memories of people who lived through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.

Enroll in a lab, honors, or research seminar. These graduate school–style courses involve students in active research, usually related to the professor’s own projects. Students of anthropology and linguistics, for example, have conducted field studies among local Japanese families to understand how language is used to preserve national identity. Students of history have formed small research teams to collaborate on projects from digitizing primary source materials to researching the Silk Road at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Tackle a capstone or senior thesis project. All of our majors offer capstone or senior thesis courses to support students in producing a significant piece of faculty-supervised scholarship. The senior thesis of one of our students, a major in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, was recently recognized as the year’s top student essay in women’s studies at a statewide forum.

Pursue a research internship or special independent study.Antiwar movements in 1990s Yugoslavia? Veiling practices among Pakistani women?We will work with you to develop a for-credit experience to pursue your passions.One English major, while researching Walt Whitman’s ideas on education reform, scoured old issues of the campus newspaper to discover an 1888 interview, previously unknown to scholars, in which the poet advised, “First, don’t write poetry.”

Grab your passport. Our faculty-led short courses whisk students around the globe for intensive study of one topic, from suffrage in Britain to apartheid in South Africa. Research and creative scholarship is central to many travel-study courses. In Tanzania, where women endure high rates of infant and maternal mortality, students captured the stories of 120 mothers to share with health practitioners through a web-publishing platform.

Become a MUSE scholar. Students who pursue a Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience spend eight weeks living on campus and conducting research with a faculty mentor. Among the fascinating questions explored by our MUSE scholars: Are employees with strong work identities more adept at managing their on-the-job emotions? How did the 2009 financial crisis shape the nature of protest movements in Europe? Are psychological factors predictive of electoral outcomes?

Your Research at Work in the World

The raison d’être of research is to advance knowledge and solve problems. Presenting to fellow scholars provides new insights to consider and new avenues of inquiry to pursue. Sharing with community partners can address an unmet need or suggest a fresh approach. Great ideas shouldn’t sit on a shelf. That’s why we connect our students with the right outlet for disseminating their work.

Publish your paper in an academic journal. Students authoring or co-authoring research papers often work with their faculty mentors to prepare and submit their work for publication. One of our psychology majors recently published her research in International Journal of Eating Disorders and went on to win a research fellowship from the National Science Foundation to support her graduate studies at Harvard.

Share your work in alternative media. Websites, film and video, podcasts and digital galleries, among other new media, give our students fresh ways to communicate. History majors recently designed walking tours of Trenton based on their own archival research, then created podcasts to share the tours with the public. A second major in journalism, visual arts, or interactive multimedia can help to prepare you for careers in media-based fields.

Present your ideas in public forums. Sharing research within the TCNJ community, at school and college-wide events, gives our students the confidence to look beyond campus. Members of the history and English honor societies, for example, have presented their work at annual conferences as far away as New Mexico. One of our political science majors recently presented her research on divided federalism at the highly selective Posters on the Hill symposium in Washington DC, discussing her insights with U.S. senators and representatives.

Apply your research in the world. Long-standing relationships with community partners allow our faculty to develop research projects that address real-world needs. A local police department reallocated their patrol resources with the help of a crime pattern analysis conducted by our criminology students. And the firm developing Trenton’s new master plan relied on field observations conducted by sociology students to understand how Trentonians use public spaces like parks, plazas, and breezeways.

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