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After spending the summer researching around the world, 17 seniors presented their findings at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs’ undergraduate thesis conference last Thursday and Friday.
In its ninth year, the conference serves as a venue for undergraduates who received senior thesis funding from the Weatherhead Center to share their research and receive feedback. According to Clare Putnam, coordinator of student programs and fellowships for the Weatherhead Center, funding grants range from $1,000 to more than $6,000. However, funding is not the Center's only form of support.
“We want to do more than just give them a check and say good luck,” Putnam said, emphasizing that the Center helps seniors throughout their last year.
The annual conference serves as the culmination of a year-long process beginning with the selection of juniors from a competitive applicant pool early in their spring semester. Once selected, each student is matched with one of the Weatherhead Center’s graduate student associates, who provides advice before students embark on their research over the summer.
“I met one-on-one with my grad adviser, and she would help me think about my questions from a very different perspective," Economics concentrator Bianca Mulaney ’16, a recently-named Marshall Scholar, said. "She helped me really think about these questions in a more socially conscious manner."
Mulaney’s research examined the effects of antibiotic use in agricultural production from an economic perspective, a topic she first encountered during the summer after her freshman year.
Although the thesis projects vary greatly in subject, discipline, and location, they all relate to global research, the Weatherhead Center's specialty.The Weatherhead Center is the largest international research center within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
As such, the vast majority of students use part of their grant money to travel abroad. Mulaney’s research took her to London and Denmark, where she visited a pig farm.
“We feel like the research project is important, but the research experience in the field abroad is also important,” Putnam said.
Creating a unique academic space for students is also important, Weatherhead Center director and Sociology professor Michèle Lamont said in her opening remarks at the event.
“I’ve never really been a part of a scholarly community like this where people are so interested and engaged in discussing their academic inquiries with you, and that’s something I found very refreshing and made this experience particularly enriching,” Mulaney said.
After their presentation, students received feedback and answered questions from members of the audience. Putnam said she usually asks each of the Weatherhead Center’s graduate student associates to attend one presentation, and that they make up a large portion of the attendees.
Other projects included an examination of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and a study of Islam and politics within Tunisia.
“Resources for funding at Harvard are multiple, and many students want to take advantage of their years here to explore the world—well, we empower that,” Lamont said. “ That’s what we’re about.”
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