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Ashdown Publishes on Conducting Research with Undergraduates

Associate Professor of Psychology Brien Ashdown has published an opinion article in the March 29 issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. His text is titled “Involving Undergraduates in Publishable International Research: Experiences in Latin America.” Ashdown performs research in Guatemala every summer, often accompanied by students.

In the article, Ashdown writes about five issues that academic researchers must manage when they undertake international research with undergraduate students: establishing local collaborations, avoiding “safari” research, understanding students’ cultural and research skills, obtaining institutional support and modelling international research ethics.

Developing partnerships with local collaborators, says Ashdown, is vital for research groups.
“Local collaborators have better access to local populations, understand local customs and can serve as cultural ambassadors in addition to collaborators,” he writes.

Ashdown points out that having undergraduates available who speak the language and have studied the culture extensively beforehand is beneficial. He says that students without previous international experience can provide valuable support—and in fact, even students who do not travel to the research location can provide assistance that earns them a publication credit. In Ashdown’s recent work in Guatemala, students who did not travel to the country aided in data analysis, literature searches and writing. “I still require them to have a solid grounding in Guatemalan culture,” he says.

Ashdown notes the need to model good research ethics, which can involve anything from obtaining institutional review board approval for research involving human participants to ensuring that local collaborators and students receive appropriate authorship recognition in any published findings, and publishing in journals that are accessible to all. In his own case, Ashdown says, “this decision often means publishing in open-access journals because many Guatemalan scholars cannot afford the excessive cost of accessing databases and journals.”

Ashdown was invited to submit his article as part of a collection of articles in the journal on involving undergraduates in the publication process. He believes there are multiple benefits for students who perform and publish their research. “They are able to highlight this kind of meaningful work on job and graduate school applications, learn how science actually happens in the field and generally improve their global citizenship and identity,” Ashdown says.