|Christopher Reaves, Ph.D., is the director of the Office for Undergraduate Research, a clearinghouse to promote and facilitate research, scholarship and creative activities by students in all disciplines at UAB.|
Christopher Reaves, Ph.D., is the director of the Office for Undergraduate Research, a clearinghouse to promote and facilitate research, scholarship and creative activities by students in all disciplines at UAB.
Reaves, formerly a project manager for the Center for Urban Affairs, is a specialist in community and local economic development, public policy and program evaluation.
His research has covered topics as diverse as public transit compliance with disability standards, effectiveness of domestic violence-prevention initiatives, education-delivery systems and economic development programs.
Reaves has spent the past decade conducting environmental and sustainable-development research and assisting local governments with their capacity to redevelop contaminated properties.
Reaves recently spoke to the UAB Reporter about the mission of his office.
Q. How excited are you about leading this new initiative to enhance and promote undergraduate research?
A. Very. UAB is a world-class research institution with amazing opportunities for its undergraduates. Developing a formal infrastructure to facilitate these opportunities makes for an exciting time to be a student at UAB. I'm happy to be a part of it.
Q. Why was the Office for Undergraduate Research created?
A. The office was created, quite simply, to increase the level of undergraduate research that occurs on campus. Research always has been an important component of undergraduate experience at UAB - most often found in pockets within individual schools. This office was created to the provide resources necessary to spread these pedagogies more widely.
Q. What are the benefits of developing and facilitating undergraduate research?
A. Undergraduates who are involved in research or a hands-on educational opportunity get a unique experience that brings to life what they are learning in the classroom.
Plus, these opportunities enable students to work with internationally known faculty or be part of a research team. This is invaluable for those students preparing for graduate school and professional careers. Plus, these experiences excite students about learning, all the while instilling a strong work ethic that prepares them for the complexities of the real world.
Q. What are advantages to encouraging research at an earlier stage?
A. Working with a faculty mentor early in their college careers usually creates a greater connection with the university and the discipline and makes for a memorable and rewarding learning experience for the student.
In fact, research has shown that students who have a research experience tend to stay in school and graduate, as well as pursue advanced degrees. Building this educational depth into the framework of the undergraduate experience helps motivate students for the rigors of college life and infuses them with the necessary skills for success.
Q. What is your office developing to achieve these goals?
A. We just completed the inaugural and successful UAB Expo: An Exposition of Undergraduate Scholarship, during which more than 120 undergraduates presented their scholarly works to 250-plus attendees.
Our latest project is the U R Connected (Undergraduate Research Connected) Web application. This will be an online UAB marketplace where faculty can post research opportunities for undergrads and browse student-researcher profiles. Students will be able to post their research interests and resumes and search available opportunities. This will enable a more systematic and comprehensive approach to connecting students and faculty.
Q. So, many researchers across campus will be able to benefit from the work of this office?
A. Absolutely. In fact, many researchers already are benefiting from undergraduate researchers on campus. We have some outstanding undergraduate students doing important work that contributes significantly to their respective disciplines. Plus, undergraduates often bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas and perspectives to a research project.
In an undergrad, a researcher will have someone they can count on for four years. Because of this, it is not unheard of to have undergraduates training the graduate students who are newcomers to the lab. Plus, with undergraduates, researchers can mentor them on projects that have high-risk/high-return that they ordinarily would not be able to pursue.
Q. How does this strengthen UAB's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP)?
A. Students who conduct research often present at conferences and author or co-author papers. In order to do so effectively, students constantly must work on their writing and communication skills, which are main components of the QEP.
Plus, they often are performing advanced statistics and mathematical computations, thus ensuring quantitative literacy, another focus of the QEP. Furthermore, students engaging in undergraduate research must undergo training in the responsible conduct of research. This helps assure that the QEP goal for learning to make informed and ethical decisions is being met.
Q. Is UAB well-positioned to provide these opportunities to its undergraduates?
A. UAB is a world-renowned research institution with faculty who are leaders in their field.
You just don't get the type and number of research opportunities available at UAB at other institutions, nor do you usually get faculty committed to incorporating students into their research. UAB certainly is unique in this manner.
More information about the Office for Undergraduate Research is available online.