Guest editorial

This issue features papers from the Second Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research (ACUR) which was held at Macquarie University on 19-20 September 2013. The Conference was established to highlight the range of research work undertaken by undergraduates across Australasia; to provide a forum for undergraduate researchers to present their work; to create a community of undergraduate researchers and to establish Macquarie University as a leader in encouraging undergraduate research. This issue presents just nine of the 55 presentations at the conference. It illustrates the variety of topics featured at that event and demonstrates the high quality of research being undertaken by undergraduates in Australia and New Zealand.

As in 2012, the articles in this issue have been through a very rigorous process of review and were eventually chosen on the basis of the quality of the work.  Firstly, submitted abstracts were blind reviewed by a subject expert and generalist. Careful checks were then made to ensure students’ eligibility to present, ensuring that they were indeed undergraduate students.  Authors of abstracts accepted for presentation at the conference, either as a spoken presentation or a poster depending on the quality of the abstract, were then given the option of writing a full paper. Papers submitted were then blind reviewed by two members of our panel of experts who indicated whether the paper was competitive enough to be considered for the Best Paper prize and/or for publication in this journal. Finally, the Conference Steering Group ranked the papers that were considered competitive. That was still not the end of the process. The Steering group attended the presentations of the highest ranked papers to ensure they resulted in high quality presentations. Following the conference, further reviews and discussions took place to establish the best papers and these are presented here. While last year’s Special Issue represented eight Australian universities, this issue includes seven submissions by Macquarie University students and two submissions by University of Western Australia students.

The Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research took place as part of Macquarie’s Learning and Teaching Week 2013. Around 80 Undergraduate, Master of Research and Honours students from all over Australia and New Zealand presented their research, either as a spoken or a poster presentation. Macquarie and Price Theatres were filled with 150 visitors each day. Research presented covered diverse topics ranging across all disciplines, from “Big History” and “Web 2.0 technologies” to “Green Energy” and “Meaning of Life”.

This year ACUR 2013 has received significant sponsorship by several institutions and two of the authors published here were awarded two out of ten prizes on offer. Rodney Cross’ paper “Bold as brass: ‘brass instruments’ in the Roman army” drew much interest at the conference and was awarded $1000 for the best paper and presentation at ACUR 2013. Rodney explores the tactical and strategic use of brass instruments by the ancient Roman army which led to significant advantage in the battlefield. Dean Croxon’s paper titled “Fair go with web 2.0: effective strategies for the democratisation of learning and teaching processes using web 2.0 technologies”, received a $500 Travel Scholarship. As his paper analyses how Web 2.0 technologies inherently facilitate core aspects of democratised learning, a concept addressing equal opportunity in the classroom, it was of particular interest to the largely young audience. Jacqueline Ruchpaul submitted a paper based on her poster presentation on “The correction of public opinion: the account of Kleomenes I by Herodotus” which was voted by conference audience as the Best Poster at ACUR 2013. Her paper challenges the opinion of modern historians about the Spartan King Kleomenes I. In a lively conference presentation Joel Evans compared the mentoring practices of the Roman Republic to those of the contemporary world. Saartje Tack invites a modern-day audience to interpret the representations of femininity in the Australian TV series Underbelly: Razor, while Gaelen Anna Perrone from the University of Western Australia takes us into the complex world of policy entrepreneurship and strategic litigation. In another paper in this issue, Eesha Patel provides an insight into international experience of students from the teachers’ perspectives. With a strong call for action Dac Khoa Ngyuen discusses how the Australian insurance industry needs to take a new climate variability risk due to increasing weather changes. Finally, Amy Lego’s paper presents an interesting comparative study of Amazon mythology in ancient literature and art. This issue is full of interesting and exciting research.

The ACUR committee acknowledges the support of reviewers, sponsors, incl. Coop Bookshop and Macquarie Library, and our 40 volunteers who made this conference such a success. Macquarie’s VC Professor Bruce S Dowton presented the awards to the students and congratulated the organisers Prof Angela Brew and Lilia Mantai on this “terrific initiative” while he expressed his support for the future of ACUR.
Feedback returned after the conference shows again that students appreciated the opportunity to present their research, sharing ideas with others and making valuable connections at a conference like ACUR. One presenter commented: “I gained the understanding that the ability to conduct research is not restricted to academics at university, unlike a common perception that undergraduates only learn coursework and need to wait for higher level study to undertake projects. The great showcase of expertise in differing fields provides a great reason for more undergraduate students to answer their own questions as it is evident that we all are indeed capable of achievement in researching exciting and relevant issues.”

We are excited to announce the Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research will continue to be an annual event hosted by different universities in Australia and possibly New Zealand thanks to the support of the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching.  ACUR 2014 is scheduled for 18-19 September 2014 and will be hosted by the Australian National University in Canberra. More details, submissions and registrations will soon be available on acur.org.au. We hope you enjoy reading about the exciting research conducted by undergraduate students and hope this will ignite a spark in readers of this journal to pursue their own research ambitions. We look forward to seeing you at ACUR 2014 in Canberra!

Lilia Mantai and Angela Brew

Macquarie University

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