If you’re a freshman Monroe Scholar at W&M, you have the chance to apply for a $1000 grant to spend two weeks of your summer doing a research project on a topic of your choosing. For those of you who have had no formal research experience, and even those who have, it can seem daunting to think of a topic to dig so deeply into, and even more challenging to actually spend the time doing the research. Luckily, the Peer Scholarship Advisors are here with tips on how to go about finding a topic and an advisor for your freshman Monroe Project. Here are a few steps that may help guide you in finding a project idea:
1. Reflect on your Coursework
Freshman Monroe Projects are designed to build upon your freshman year experience at William & Mary, and as a result it’s required that you choose a topic related to a course that you’ve taken here so far. You may want to look deeper into a topic that you brushed on in class, or your idea may be to research a topic that you didn’t cover explicitly in class but is related to other materials that you did cover. Think about what classes you’ve taken, which ones you liked the most, and why you liked them the most, and this can help you narrow down your topic. If you already know what classes you’ll want to take in the future or what you want to major in, this can give you ideas for a project as well!
2. Think about your Future
What kind of research or coursework do you see yourself doing in the future at WM or after graduation? How could your freshman Monroe Project prepare you for future research or for your career? Many students continue to study the topic of their freshman Monroe Projects as an independent study, or even use it as a springboard to a future Honor’s Thesis. This is not the case for everyone, but it can be helpful to keep in mind these possibilities, and they can give you ideas for topics to consider.
3. Not too Narrow, not too Broad
This project must take up at least the equivalent of two full-time weeks of work (i.e. 80 hours), so make sure that your topic isn’t so specific or so simple that it could be answered in a much shorter time than that. Moreover, although many freshman Monroe Projects do take more than the required 80 hours to complete, keep in mind that you’re not being expected to write a 100-page dissertation! This project is only intended to get your feet wet with research, so be mindful of that and pick a project that you could realistically do with the knowledge that you have in a time not too much longer than 80 hours. You can read through the guidelines for your project proposal here get a better idea of the scope of your project.
4. Meet with a Swem Research Librarian
The research desk at Swem is a great resource for you for any research that you might do during your four years at W&M, be it for a class or for individual research. The librarians are very knowledgeable and can give you guidance in narrowing your research topic. You can make appointments with them here.
It’s also important to remember that you must have a faculty advisor for your freshman Monroe Project! Your advisor must be a William & Mary professor who has expertise in the area of your proposed topic. They can be the professor who taught the class which inspired your project, but this is not required. Here are a places you can look to help find your faculty advisor:
5. Talk to your Professors
If the professor of the class that inspired your topic is the person you want to be your advisor, then this is the only step! Talk to them before or after class or go to their office hours and request politely that they advise you in your project. But even if you’re not sure if you want this professor to be your advisor, they can still give you helpful guidance. If your topic isn’t specifically in their area of expertise, they can direct you to other faculty members who will be more knowledgeable. Moreover, your professor can help you narrow down project ideas if you’re not completely sure what you want to do.
6. Check the Department’s Faculty Directory
William & Mary department websites have directories which list all of the faculty members, their research interests, and their contact information. This can be a helpful place to look to find out which faculty’s expertise aligns best with your topic. Once you’ve found someone you want to work with, send them an email to ask to meet and discuss your topic. Although it can be nerve-wracking to email a professor you don’t know out of the blue, W&M professors are usually very happy to help students interested in getting involved in research!
If you have questions about any part of the Freshman Monroe Project application process, feel free to come into the Peer Scholarship Advisor office in the Charles Center Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. As always, good luck with your application!