How can friendships impact academic experiences and results? Honours student Brendan Lu answers in his research

Brendan Lu is a fourth year Sociology honours student working under the supervision of Dr. Silvia Bartolic.

His thesis, “Friendships, Loneliness and Academic Achievement among Undergraduate Students”, takes a quantitative approach to examine how friendship support and loneliness impact academic experiences and results, including GPA (a common measure of academic achievement) and career skill competence (to see how well one is prepared for future employment and careers through their education).

How did you become interested in this topic? Why did you choose it for your thesis?

Are friends good for students? Perhaps companionship provides much needed motivation, and reduces loneliness. Or can they do more harm than good? They could be distractions too.

Education and friendship are two areas in sociology that I’m interested in. These are two key agents that socialize individuals, especially many of us in a university setting, including myself. I find my networks changing and evolving often, and I wanted to see how exactly that is connected to students and their studies.

Can you summarize your project and its main findings for us?

This study’s findings are based on quantitative survey data, involving responses from undergraduate students at UBC that have completed at least one full academic year.

Through correlations and regressions, I find that friendship support is negatively related to loneliness. I measure academic achievement through GPA and career skill competence, finding that these two are positively related to each other, but that friendship support and loneliness are only related to career skill competence.

These outcomes are not impacted when controlled for year of study, age, academic motivation, employment status, prior living arrangements (based on proximity to Vancouver), and current living arrangements (whether respondents live on or off campus).

What was your favourite part of doing research?

Collecting and analyzing data was actually fun! If you’re seeking respondents (which most do), whether quantitative or qualitative, getting a potential response is always exciting.

Analyzing the data is also a key milestone, which I dreaded coming into until I saw the results. Whether they’re what you expected or not, it’s interesting to see. Think about what those mean, then back to the writing, and the home stretch. Once you’re analyzing the data you know you’ve got it and are getting there.

Why did you choose to study Sociology as a major? Why did you decide to apply into the honours program?

Coming into university, I knew I was an Arts kid. But what major specifically? I knew I had to try a few things to find out. After all, they’re interconnected, even the social sciences that you might be less familiar with.

Halfway into my first year, I decided to do a timetable switch, adding SOCI 101 and 102. It was strange how much sense sociological theories made to me, and the practical examples that at first sound like random facts yet are so applicable and even relatable at times. I just couldn’t put these concepts and occurrences into words and explanations before studying sociology. It also feels like a broad social science under which all others can fall under.

Through my undergraduate studies, I developed a particular interest in the sociology of education and friendship, along with areas related to law, crime, and politics which I hope to also explore through research in the near future.

Do you have advice for other prospective Sociology honours students?

Considering grad school and academia? The sociology honours program is THE place to start. If you remember what you learned from SOCI 217 and 328, you have a head start, but if not, this is the place for reminders. Either way, you’ll be reinforcing your knowledge and understanding of research in an even better way (i.e. putting it into practice). The prospect of learning how to conduct academic research is what got me into honours, and why you should too. It’s proven tough, but effective, valuable, and totally worthwhile.

Like me a year ago, you might have one or many topics in mind, but when I narrowed it down to one, the first surprise was that I needed to expand my topic and ideas. Approach your supervisor with scattered ideas, but refine your topic as you write up your research proposal. Build off the research proposal to write your final paper, even before conducting field research.

Throughout the process, you’ll receive feedback. It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re way off track or if you’re talking to people using heavy research jargon. You might feel lost through this. That’s okay. As an undergraduate you most likely aren’t a published scholar… yet. Actively seek feedback and aim to come to an understanding of your tasks with help. Your supervisor is your mentor and guide.