Professors can help students by teaching about research methods

Julia Zaksek

I walked the PCL desperately searching for the book I needed for my first research paper at UT. After searching for a while, I finally gave up and meekly asked a librarian for help. A few clicks on her computer later, she told me that not only was the book I was searching for checked out, but that I had also been looking in the wrong section entirely. 

UT’s campus has a large number of libraries, reading rooms and research centers full of scholarly works. Online, UT students have access to a variety of academic databases and websites. Students should be more than prepared to conduct research. The problem is, many incoming students don’t know how to navigate and access all these resources. UT professors need to take time in class to teach their students about how to research using the University’s many available resources. 

“I don’t think we’ve really been told exactly how many resources are available to us,” said Plan II and business freshman Vanessa Sun. “I think it’d be beneficial to have a session about what resources there are.” 

When writing her first research paper of the year, Sun said she was unable to find any good online or print resources with her limited knowledge of how to use UT databases and websites. She ultimately used information she found on Google, rather than taking advantage of the University databases and books.

Undergraduate study, or UGS, courses are required for many freshmen and incorporate a research component into their curriculum, according to Sarah Brandt, the librarian for First-Year Programs. However, this requirement does not help students who have not taken their UGS or are in a program that does not require a UGS.

Brandt said there are many students who aren’t aware of all the resources UT libraries have to offer. 

This lack of instruction about research resources can leave students unsure of how to obtain scholarly sources — a critical component of many university studies. And students may be penalized by professors for citing unofficial sources. Sources that worked in high school may not suffice at UT. 

“We have students who come to the library desk and say ‘I’ve never looked for a book in the library before’ or ‘I don’t know how to find an article on this topic I’m researching,’” Brandt said. 

Understanding how to fully use all academic resources is especially useful to students in classes and majors that are writing and/or research intensive. Teaching students how to find resources can eliminate the panic of searching fruitlessly online and failing to find free resources to cite. 

“In Plan II, we write so many essays and research papers that I think it’d help a lot to know exactly how to use what’s available,” Sun said. 

Professors can integrate information about research into their course in a number of ways. Standardized instructions can be included in every UT syllabus to better inform students.

To ensure every student knows about the research resources, professors can devote one class, or even a fraction of a class, to discussing available resources. 

The burden to inform students about available resources and research methods shouldn’t fall solely on UT libraries or research centers. According to Brandt, despite putting out information for students, the problem is the increasingly large campus preventing her from reaching every student.

Professors at UT have a responsibility to make sure their students know about the research methods at the University. Informing students will lead to better papers, greater awareness of UT’s campus and will help students receive the education they expect from the University.

Zaksek is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies freshman from Allen.