What have you enjoyed about your URSS project?
I have enjoyed the independence that came with the project, that I was essentially able to design, conduct, review, refine and write up my own original research. I enjoyed the experience of working for a week in the National Archives. Though cutting my notes down from 60,000 to 5,000 words for a Reinvention article was frustrating, the satisfaction of submitting a finished piece of original research for peer review was worth it.
What have you found difficult?
One of the major problems I had was that I assumed allof the sources I would need would be stored at the National Archives, as they were all listed on the National Archives catalogue. However, some of the most germane sources were located at the Caird Library in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. This was unfortunately closed from the beginning of July to the middle of September as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic games. If I were to do it again, I would have tried to have accessed or ordered the documents from this library before starting my project. As it was, I was forced to shift the focus of my research away from slavery and towards language used in the contemporary domestic debate around impressment. Thus it may be said that I side-stepped rather than overcame this issue.
My other significant problem was with the word limit of the article. As the proud owner of an article around 15,000 words in length, it was to my dismay that I learned that the maximum length of a reinvention article is 5,000 words. Obviously with better planning and forethought this could have been avoided; as it was the editing process was difficult and somewhat painful. I have to thank my supervisor Mark Knights for identifying the real strengths of my argument, and suggesting where I could cut it down. It is thanks to him that the article is sharper, shorter and more interesting.
How do you feel that completing a project has/can help you?
I have gained much confidence finding and using relevant first hand sources from a huge mass of documents, which I had previously considered the domain of established and expert professors. I am also now much better able to read and make sense of scripts from the eighteenth century. I have also significantly enhanced my ability to skim-read, which I had previously found to be a weakness of mine, as I frequently found entire documents engrossing and was often side-tracked. Writing an article about original research has been an eye-opener, certainly far-removed from undergraduate essays I have written up until now. All these skills are certain to prove invaluable in my final year of study at Warwick, particularly when writing my dissertation.
The project has helped me to decide that although I find history research very interesting, I would want to try something else, perhaps more practical, before continuing with further study. Nonetheless without URSS I would not have been able to determine this before graduating.
Nonetheless many of the skills honed by planning, conducting and collating the findings of an independent research project such as a rigorous focus on only the most germane information, and the ability to locate, read and contextualise this information, are transferable ones useful in many careers. They have particular application in areas such as NGO and journalistic work in which research, while not necessarily purely academic, has a vital function.
How did you find out about the URSS scheme?
Through a friend who had taken part in the scheme in a previous years.
What are your 3 top tips for URSS students about to start work on their research projects?
1. Check where you will get your information from, and especially if this is a physical institution such as an archive, library or laboratory, make sure you can access these during the period in which you are conducting your research.
2. Liase closely with your supervisors, they really are the best people to help you.
3. Make sure you fully understand the requirements of the expected outcomes - word-limits, deadlines etc.
What's next for you?
Trying to achieve a first class bachelor's degree, then hopefully a year working as an intern at an NGO or DFID, before a Masters.
How would you sum up your URSS experience in one sentence?
I feel that the URSS has offered me a brilliant opportunity and insight into the world of post-graduate academics researching original work.