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A Preview of Grad School

The Research & Creative Honors Program helps UNLV undergrads prepare for graduate research work.

Research  |  Sep 21, 2018  |  By Nicole Rupersburg
Honors College signage

You don’t always need to see the preview to know if you want to watch the whole movie, but it can certainly help.

The UNLV Honors College designed its Research & Creative Honors (RH) Program as a preview. It’s not the whole movie, not even close, but it does give you a good sense of what the movie is going to be about.

UNLV undergraduate students who are curious about pursuing graduate studies or pre-professional programs are a key audience for the RH Program. RH gives them a preview of the research process that they might engage in as graduate students — a year-long highlights reel of the experience of writing a thesis.

“I never did anything like this as an undergrad,” said Lisa Menegatos, acting associate dean of the Honors College. “So when I decided I wanted to get my master’s, it was a very steep learning curve. I had no idea what a prospectus or defense was, or what the committee did. Had I been able to do a project like this as an undergrad, it would have put me far ahead of the game, or at least not so far behind.”

Earning a bachelor’s degree in itself is not necessarily enough preparation for immediately going on to graduate school. Granted, countless students do this all the time and still succeed in the end, but the RH Program is designed to help those students engaged in it thrive from the beginning with an enhanced level of preparation not typically seen in undergraduate work.

Students who complete the Research & Creative Honors Thesis will develop a better understanding of the research process, the scholarly collaboration involved, and the amount of work grad school entails well before they submit applications. From beginning to end, the RH Thesis reflects the process of preparing a graduate school thesis, including writing a literature review, forming and testing a hypothesis, developing and presenting a proposal to a committee, collecting and analyzing data, writing, rehearsing the final defense, getting feedback from committee members, and presenting in a conference-like setting.

“The idea is that you’re dipping your toes into the water and getting a feel for all the work and time that will be required in order to complete a thesis in graduate school,” said Britney Trieu, a senior in biology who completed her RH Thesis in educational psychology in the spring. “Even though it was a smaller-scale thesis, the early exposure to preparing a thesis was really important.”

For those interested in the fine arts, the college offers the Creative Honors Thesis. Menegatos pointed to a graphic design student writing and illustrating a bilingual children’s book and a theatre major scripting a play as examples of the final product that comes from the creative thesis. It can be included in a grad school application or a professional portfolio to differentiate themselves from other candidates in the field.

Students also get the benefit of built-in mentorship provided by their committee of three faculty mentors — one assigned from the Honors College and two of their own choosing.

“As committee members, we also provide emotional support,” Menegatos said. “We check in often to make sure students have the resources they need and are staying on track. They’ve got a team of people around them that wants them to succeed.”

Trieu said she relied heavily on her committee members because she had never done anything of this magnitude before. Being able to turn to her committee for feedback and answers to her questions helped her distinguish between what she was doing correctly and what she needed to work on. She also said she developed a life skill that transcends researching.

“I can’t picture any job that doesn’t have some kind of teamwork involved,” Trieu said. “The Research & Creative Honors Program is very much a team effort. I could not have done this on my own. So even if a participating student doesn’t go to grad school, the skills that one builds in this program are valuable.”