Grace Cavanaugh ~ Copy Editor
Student research is an integral part of campus life at the University of Lynchburg.
Mary King, a senior in the Westover Honors College is currently doing research on mental health. King said, “The research that I am doing right now, I am working with Dr. Favero, Dr. Cylke, and Dr. Savage. My current research study is for my Westover Honors Thesis. What I am doing is I sent out a survey on Tuesday [Sept. 17] ….. assessing your mental health. It looks specifically at depression and anxiety levels in students and I am seeing how that correlates with the levels of stigmatization, stigma that they exhibit along with kind of the amount of advocacy form the school.”
She continued, “So, basically, I am looking at correlations between the mental health symptoms that we do see on campus combined with how much support we see from the administration and faculty. The end goal is to kind of come up with almost like a strategic plan to see what we can implement on campus to make those symptoms better and to make it where we do not necessarily see that level of stigma.”
Dr. Jennifer Styrsky, assistant professor of environmental science, is also working on student-faculty research. “My husband, Mr. Dr. Styrsky, and I have had students working out at Claytor [Nature Center], and so we have an ongoing project with studying milkweed plants. There are various projects that have been done with this. The thing that is going on now is that we are collaborating with other institutions to determine the influence of environment on various ecotypes of milkweed.”
She stated, “The driving force of this is that milkweed is the native host plant to Monarch butterflies. So, there are lots of projects to plant milkweed seeds to try and get more Monarchs to have habitats, but the question is: if you plant seeds that came from the far North in Virginia, are those plants going to survive, or do well?”
There are also two of Dr. Styrsky’s former students who are working on research. “Two students were interested in [mealworms]. As they were researching their independent project [for ecology], they discovered that mealworms can break down plastics. They were very interested in the potential of mealworms as something that can decompose plastic. They developed a research project last spring in the class.”
She said, “Now, they are planning to, this year, redo and expand their project that they started as a class project for an independent project. That was Emily Sanchez and Danielle Hook, who are planning to do with me this year.”
“I think some students are intimidated by research,” said Dr. Styrsky. “It just feels daunting. Even though that is an option for [science] majors to do research or an internship, some students may feel that research is kind of frightening because they don’t know where to begin.”
Dr. Styrsky advised, “Talking to your professors is the way to begin. Some professors have ongoing research they want students to continue; others are open to student ideas. Sometimes if, maybe a student were to approach me and say, ‘I would be interested in doing this,’ I could say, ‘Well, this is not something I do, but I know somebody who would be interested in doing that.’ We can help guide students to the right person.”
“First thing is to work with a faculty member so that you actually have an established relationship with somebody, so you will need to discuss what is feasible, what you are interested in doing. Then, think about what questions you are going to ask, and what you are going to need. […] What are you, as a student, going to gain from doing this research?” said Dr. Styrsky.
King, however, had a different approach to starting research. “[Make] research appointments in the library. I met with Abby Lowery […] over the summer and she would literally just sit there with me and come up with a list of 10 different journal databases that I could look through and would help me find specific articles to what variables I wanted to look at. They will find you absolutely anything. […] The library is totally underutilized. They have the research department, they have the archives, they have the curriculum lab; there’s so much stuff. Go to the library, work with your faculty, make sure you know your faculty really well when you start your research because it’s going to help you in the long run.”
She continued, “Be ready to fail. I know that sounds really dark, but this is my third thesis, this is the second of my theses that included human subjects research, and you just have to be ready. Your IRB proposal is going to get rejected the first time. […] You have to have a plan. You have to know exactly what you’re going to study and it’s okay if you don’t know that at first. […] Make sure you have a background, you have a purpose, you have really good faculty behind you. […] I got really close with my professors, and that’s honestly what you need to do. We’re not a research-based university, but you can still do it and you can do it really well.”
King said, “If you think it is too much, it gets a lot easier when you have a good committee. […] If nothing else, there’s always room for replication and improvement of other studies. So if you can’t come up with an original idea of your own but you find another study that you really like, you can implement that on campus and confirm or deny results. The fun of research is that you can never stop doing it.”
Dr. Styrsky said, “Once you get going, it can be really fun to take ownership of a project and see it through from your initial idea all the to a result at the end.”
On Sept. 17, 2019, Dr. Jennifer Styrsky, an assistant professor in environmental science, sent out a school-wide email about the Schewel Student-Faculty Research Fund.
The email stated, “The Schewel Research Fund supports student-faculty collaborative research through a generous gift from Rosel H. and Elliot S. Schewel. This award will fund expenses for student-faculty collaborative research projects across all disciplines on a competitive basis, and can be used to cover research costs (e.g. equipment, supplies, travel) and/or expenses related to publication or presentation of the completed research. It is available to undergraduate and graduate students.”
Dr. Styrsky clarified in an interview, “This is not just for science students. This can be for students in any sort of subject. Business school students can be funded, graduate students, health sciences, social sciences… It is wide open to any undergraduate or graduate student.”
She also said, “Keep the budget in mind. There is a $600 upper limit for these, so that needs to be considered if you are asking for thousands of dollars. How else will you get the money to fund it?”
Dr. Styrsky also noted, “Being able to say on a resume that you have received a grant is something that employers like to see, so I encourage students to do this. Think about what you could potentially use that grant for. […] That is something else that will benefit you in the long run, as far as your career prospects, or graduate school prospects, down the road.”