Honours student Alec Wilson co-develops an Undergraduate Research Manual with Sociology Professors

Alec Wilson is a Sociology (Honours) major in his fifth year at UBC. His Honours (and current) research focuses on public discourse and market shifts, analyzing media to investigate how public discourse shapes market movements.

Currently, Alec is working with Professors Oral Robinson and Silvia Bartolic to develop the Undergraduate Research Manual for social science research while researching social media communities devoted to improving credit scores.

Previously, Alec investigated market rhetoric and campaigns such as ride-hailing in B.C. to uncover the key notions and institutions informing our perspective of “fair” economic practices. He investigates these campaigns to understand how public debate can more transparently divulge inequalities, doubts, and promises implied by new economic projects to better inform public support, dissent, and market accountability.

We spoke to Alec about his current research projects and what he learned from working on the Undergraduate Research Manual.

Honours student Alec Wilson

Tell us about the Undergraduate Research Manual, your role in the project and when will it be available for students to use?

The Undergraduate Research Manual will be a free-to-use open education resource (OER) for undergraduate students hoping to take their research to the next level. It is designed to inform Honours thesis students and other advanced research undergraduates how to create publishable research. The manual follows all the typical steps of research (the research question, proposal, literature review, etc.), discusses what ought to be in each component, and articulates their importance for the social research process (the production of knowledge about society).

I am a co-author for the manual, meaning I am co-responsible, alongside Professors Oral Robinson and Silvia Bartolic, for researching, writing, editing, and publishing the manual. I have been diligently doing research, revising our outline, and writing drafts of the chapters for the manual. Having just experienced taking on a thesis as an undergraduate, I was able to weave my own thesis struggles with the general themes of the manual. I was also able to share the challenges and solutions I was presented in my thesis. This personal relation to the project also provided added inspiration for me; I wanted to offer the advice that saved me when I was in that position mere months before I started working on the project. We expect to have a draft of the entire manual completed by January 2022 and for it to be published (e-text and print) by April. We hope that students will be using the manual by Fall 2022.

Describe how you came to work on the Undergraduate Research Manual, how has that evolved, and what you have learnt in the process?

Oral led my Honours seminar in the 2020-2021 year, where he walked us through the new and challenging process of producing a thesis. It was my only serious research experience up to that point. After completing my thesis, Oral hired me to help develop the manual (along with Silvia). Oral treated me as a partner in the process from the outset, asking for “literature reviews” and “drafts” with little advice except for basic outlines. I found that I had to trust my judgment and own the risks I took. While I was initially hesitant to offend, fail, and show my amateurishness for what it was, I gradually grew confident in my position at the table. Oral advised me to keep a journal of my feelings and experiences throughout the project. This proved vital in helping me to identify and name my feeling of impostorism –which informed our conference presentation at Mount Royal University’s Forum on the Scholarship of Teaching this fall.

While I was initially hired to co-author the OER Undergraduate Research Manual, Oral decided shortly afterward to add me to the other research projects he was involved with. This resulted in us collaborating (with another undergraduate student, Chris Lam) on a chapter for Reading Sociology, and an article for Papers on Post-Secondary Learning and Teaching (PPLT). The PPLT article considers a new pedagogical technique that Oral had applied in his classes, Liberating Structures (LS), with respect to peer-mentorship literature, and the Reading Sociology chapter discusses pedagogical strategies for confronting settler colonialism in higher education.

The combination of the ownership of my work and mentorship from Oral (which is a unique consequence of the Student as Partners (SaP) approach that he took with me, taught me much, more than I could elaborate in a feature. Most importantly, this work has given me the confidence to pursue research at a higher level. This work has increased my familiarity with the writing conventions involved in academic publishing (balancing clarity, simplicity, citations, and rigour) without compromising my voice, my ability to anticipate and communicate problems in a long-term research project, and through SaP, in particular, to constructively critique my own work and others. I have consequently decided to apply to graduate school in sociology and begin my own independent research projects.

How has co-writing the manual inspired your desire to do sociological research? Has it inspired any current research?

The manual has inspired many future research plans. Having spent the summer writing about the research process, articulating the importance of a good research question, methods, literature review, my mind was fresh to the central components of social research coming into this school year. By fall, I knew that I wanted to take on more research of my own. As a result, in addition to my work with Oral – the Reading Sociology chapter and PPLT article – I have begun doing research on an online Credit community. My current research is a netnography of an online credit community (r/CRedit) devoted to improving their credit scores. I found that while the political economy of credit scoring is well-researched, the experience of credit scoring is still relatively under-studied: particularly the forums where different class groups make sense of their credit situation. That is where my research seeks to come in, investigating how online financial literacy communities such as r/CRedit help users make sense of, lament, or boast their credit experience.

What is one piece of advice you would give to undergraduates interested in partnering with professors?

Take on your own research first! Start reading, writing, and noting gaps in your fields of interest. Consider expanding your in-class research essays for the Honours program or for student publication opportunities at UBC (Sojourners is the undergraduate Sociology publication). Keep a journal of research ideas and reach out to professors at UBC who work in that field to see if those ideas have any potential. While there are RA positions for students without much prior research experience, they are sparse and competitive. In addition, without knowledge of the basics or passion for the research process, your capacity to research independently may not be on pace with a professor’s project. By turning your interests into research projects, not only will your discipline for research improve, but so will your knowledge and confidence, providing a concrete building base for which to contribute to other research projects.