The blog went quiet for a week because I took three of our Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day senior prize winners to the 22nd National Conference for Undergraduate Research, at Salisbury U in Maryland. There were some technical difficulties–spotty shuttle service, some moldy food in the boxed lunches, and devastatingly, a hotel wireless network wholly unprepared for the # of laptops that were hitting it throughout the weekend.
In the main, however, Salisbury U was a gracious host, and this conference always elevates my spirits. The worst thing about working with students is that the material they produce is almost always deformed in some way by the practical demands of the semester. Maybe a good student had to rush your paper because she had 3 other assignments due that week. Maybe another got sick at an inopportune time and was too proud to negotiate an extension. Even very good work usually hasn’t been sharpened to the student’s best capacity, because students are fully capable of figuring out how much polishing will produce the desired grade.
At NCUR, however, the students have generally polished their work to a fairly high degree. Even when I disagreed profoundly with their arguments, it’s still clear that they’ve brought their best lights to that project. As a result, it’s almost uniformly a very impressive, even–to risk a little mawkishness–inspiring sight. It’s a weekend when all your encounters with student work take place in an ideal realm: The one where students care a lot about the work they’ve done, and are excited to talk about it.
Plus, I got to hang out for a bit with an old friend from graduate school, and compare notes about teaching at a 4/4 school, living close to campus, and having a young kid.