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Friday, September 22, 2023

Academics & Research

Students prove research isn’t just for graduates


In an opportunity usually reserved for graduate students, 63 undergraduate students recieved the chance to conduct funded research on the subject of their choice under a faculty adviser this past summer. | Courtesy of

A record-breaking 63 UH undergraduate students completed their summer research as participants of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program this August.

SURF provides students a concentrated, full-time research experience under the mentorship of faculty members, with each student receiving a $3,500 stipend to conduct their research.

Students’ work ranged from theories derived from 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to women and representation in state governments.

“Over time, students are able to make a genuine contribution to their field, which is very exciting,” said Karen Weber, program director of SURF.

Senior political science and Spanish major Cynthia Milian participated in the SURF program this summer and conducted a longitudinal analysis of women’s representation in state legislatures in order to determine new types of legislative practices that will help employ qualified female candidates to run for legislative offices and increase their representation.

“My professor and I primarily fixated on how term limits, whether consecutive or life term, shape the amount of women being represented in local governments, due to high and predominantly male incumbent rates,” Milian said.

“I have a concern for the greater need of women’s representation in legislatures, local and federal. I hope and plan to run for office in the future.”

Milian said her mentor  Jennifer Hayes Clark, an assistant professor of political science, was essential in her progress.

“I introduced Cynthia to the commonly-used statistical software Stata and instructed her on how to generate graphs and run statistical regression models,” Clark said. “This is something that many political science students do not learn until they begin doctoral studies.”

Clark said, the SURF program not only provides students with a chance to produce their own research, but with the opportunity to grow professionally.

“Students are able to gain hands-on experience in developing a research proposal and carrying out original research in their field of study,” she said.

“The research skills cultivated through this experience should prove invaluable both at UH and afterwards as students apply for graduate or professional programs or enter the workforce.”

Gerardo Espinal Franco, a philosophy and public relations senior, focused on 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of drives or instincts. Franco specifically challenged how primitive drives evolved to display the human behavior we are familiar with today.

“At the end of my research, I arrived at a historical approach to the Nietzschean drive which might shed light on this issue,” Franco said. “This approach entails looking at how drives changed over time. In other words, how did the drives of Nietzsche’s prehistoric man (with their particular kind of processes) develop into modern man (with their newer and distinct kind of processes)?”

Franco said his experience in the SURF program challenged him and has benefited him in different ways.

“SURF surpasses that of even the best regular classes, because the work is your own,” Franco said.

“You conduct research on your own time, your own deadlines and, most importantly, on your own motivation. And, for the first time, you get a taste of what it truly takes to be a professional in your career. This type of experience is invaluable to students.”

Franco was guided by Iain Morrison, a professor in the Department of Philosophy who teaches The Human Situation, an Honors course. Morrison said he would encourage Franco to read certain material and has read several revisions of his 20 or more pages of research and  said the SURF program is especially beneficial for philosophy students.

“The main benefit for a student interested in going into the world of philosophical research is that it allows them full immersion in the process of writing scholarly researched work,” Morrison said.

Philosophy aside, Morrison said the SURF program “sharpens a number of skills that might become useful later on, such as critical thinking, approaching large scale projects, working on your own to a far greater extent than the classroom allows for and learning about your own limitations and tendencies.”

After months of dedication and hard work, the SURF students will present their research posters on their projects Oct. 10 at UH’s annual Undergraduate Research Day.

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