Using your own prof's research in a project for that class
November 16, 2014 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Is this bad?

I am in a graduate program in which some of my electives are undergrad courses. I am working on a project for one of my elective classes right now, and the topic I chose is something that my professor has done a lot of original research on, among few people researching that topic. I have to use my prof's research article in the project, because it fits in perfectly. However, I am not sure if this is something acceptable, or just a really bad idea. Obviously, it was risky to choose this topic, but it is something that has interested me since before I came to this school and is part of the reason I wanted to take this class. Does anyone have any input about this? Sorry if I sound like a n00b. It's my first semester in graduate school and there are a lot of things I haven't figure out yet.
posted by winterportage to Education (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
ex-prof here. Have you considered emailing your prof?
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:47 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

If your professor is among the few people researching the topic, you cannot leave their research out. Your biggest problem is not whether or not to use their paper--it's that they are an expert on the topic, and you are not, and they will obviously be grading your paper as an expert.

I think your primary goal should be to do as fair and thorough a literature review on the topic as possible, citing your professor when appropriate but not neglecting other, equally appropriate authors. And you need to do all of that while being neither fawning over nor hypercritical of their work.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2014

Response by poster: I guess I feel hesitant to email because our profs have been telling us that they prefer to talk to us in person because they receive too many emails ( I don't have time to talk to her in person before I have to decide about using this article)

Oh and I should note it's not a paper, it's a media project, so I won't be directly citing research in the project itself
posted by winterportage at 4:52 PM on November 16, 2014

Best answer: I'm an undergrad, but some of my electives are mixed grad student/undergrad. Unless I'm missing something about the details of the situation, this would not be something all that unusual for one of my grad student-level class projects. Did your professor choose the project topics, or did you decide on your own? If I was working on a project that close to my professor's topic, I'd make sure to let them know. Not only because I'd want to make sure they were ok with the topic I chose before I put a lot of work into it- but so they could give me some advice on how their research would apply to my project!
posted by Secretariat at 4:53 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I was in school, referencing your professors' work in your own research paper assignments was considered just good politics!

But I was in the school of business and economics, so we might have had a more blatantly kiss-ass departmental culture than would be acceptable in less crass disciplines :)
posted by Jacqueline at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Secretariat..i chose the topic, my prof knows because we have submitted article summaries and I did really well on those. I have a really good rapport with the prof but I find her extremely intimidating and i have had sooo much anxiety this term so I find asking profs for help is extremely difficult

Jacqueline-- thanks, your comment made me laugh... i think i am taking this too seriously... my program is very serious about political correctness and that's why i'm so anxious not to offend. how I long for some crassness now and then :)
posted by winterportage at 4:59 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't get the concern here at all, unless you're ripping the article apart in your project. Presumably you chose to work with this professor because you respect her work and want to pursue similar questions. Coursework is the perfect opportunity to do so.
posted by one_bean at 5:05 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Research seeks to enter into discussion with those who have been making contributions to the topic already. If you can enter into a "discussion" with the broader literature with your professor as a participant, you simply treat that person as another primary source in your writing.

Also, if it's a media project that presents unique research that you will be engaging in your paper or presenting as evidence for something, you would still cite it. If you won't be using any of the conclusions of that work, I'm not sure what the concern is?
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:10 PM on November 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, I think the professor will likely be fine with it, and if you do a good job on the assignment you might even be able to use this sample of your work to help you pursue a paid research assistanceship with her or at least opportunities to publish together once you're farther along in your graduate education.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:12 PM on November 16, 2014

I think you're taking a calculated risk, in the sense that you won't be able to get away with as much as you would in an area that was less well known to her. But it's also the opportunity to really knock it out of the park and have your prof know exactly how far out of the park it went for the same reason.

So do it, but make sure you kick plenty of ass.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:17 PM on November 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your help everyone :)
Last time I threadsit... can anyone help me write the email where I let my prof know what I'm doing? I feel extremely uncomfortable about appearing like a suck-up but it seems stupid not to email.
posted by winterportage at 5:27 PM on November 16, 2014

I have a really good rapport with the prof but I find her extremely intimidating and i have had sooo much anxiety this term so I find asking profs for help is extremely difficult
Professors are just people. I know because I teach at the graduate level and I'm just a person! So just remember that she woke up late today and she rushed to school and forgot her cellphone at home and is kind of behind on writing her reviews and grading and prepping for all of her classes and doing her original research, because all of that is probably close to true. She's a partner in your learning, not a boss, so take a few deep breaths and go to her office hours and chat with her about your project.

I think it would be incredibly odd not to cite her, actually, if she's an expert in the field. I also think it's a little strange to give her a heads up because... if she knows your topic, she assumes you're going to cite her. It would probably be a bad idea not to. I'd do it in-person, though, as part of a larger conversation about the project itself ("I am working on foo and I'm really excited that this is an area that you've happened to also study, since foo has been really interesting to me since I [insert experience that made you interested in the topic here]. I'm planning on referencing your paper on foo in my project, and I wanted to talk a bit about your experience doing that study. Can you tell me a bit about how you became interested in foo also?")
posted by sockermom at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2014

Best answer: Email your prof and quit worrying about the nuances of your yes/no question.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:04 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I wouldn't draft an email, I'd show up at office hours for running it by her very quickly and make it clear that I wasn't looking for extra guidance just because it happened to be her specific narrow subfield of interest. But if she gives you unsolicited advice on what to be sure not to miss, write it down!
posted by deludingmyself at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2014

Hydropsyche nailed it right off the bat. There's nothing wrong with using your professor's research in a paper, as long as it's otherwise an appropriate source. Grad students cite their advisors all the time—heck, people cite themselves all the time, and there's nothing wrong with it as long as the citation makes sense in context, which it often does.

Just be aware that your professor is going to be intimately familiar with whatever piece of their work you are citing (since they wrote it) and that they will be an expert on the topic in general. Make sure you do it right, because any mistakes you make will be noticed. Also, you don't want to criticize their work, but nor do you want to look like you're sucking up. And make sure that you aren't passing over more pertinent sources in order to use your professor's work; they will definitely be familiar with other researchers in their sub-field, and if you use their stuff when someone else's would have been more topical or more definitive then you'll look either lazy or like a kiss-ass, or both.

So go ahead, but be careful.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2014

Why aren't you meeting with her?
posted by k8t at 7:54 PM on November 16, 2014

Meet in person, but realize that your prof is a great resource around this stuff — if they published, they likely did a lit review first, and so will be really conversant in other sources. What I always tried to do was take a slightly different take from a prof so that I both build on their work and hopefully find an angle that hadn't been explored as fully yet.

But I had at least three profs that I remember who assigned their own texts as part of the course, so of course I would cite them!
posted by klangklangston at 8:23 PM on November 16, 2014

In undergrad, my program was relatively small, and heavily focused on graduate students. As a result, I took a lot of classes that were for both undergrads and grads. I can think of two papers I've done in which I cited (and in one case extensively quoted both to illustrate a point I was trying to make and to refuse a common counterargument) the work of the professor teaching the class. In one case, I'm not sure the professor even read more than the first page or two of the paper. In the second case, however (the case with the extensive quotations) the professor in question said that if I was going to continue to grad school at that university, I should tell her so she could get me on board with helping her with some of her projects.

So, there's my experience. I don't think there's any reason to avoid citing a certain expert, especially if they're in a small field, just because you happen to be presenting the work to them. I would also make sure to cite other people equally if at all possible so it doesn't seem like an attempt to gain favor, but even then if the material is specialized enough it probably doesn't matter. Your professor knows fully well how specialized they are.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2014

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