“I think BYU is unique because it offers so many undergrads the opportunity to do research,” says Brynne Townley, a recent BYU graduate. “Most other universities reserve those opportunities for graduate students only.”
As a Political Science major with a Global Women’s Studies minor, Townley saw firsthand the many research and writing opportunities and awards available to undergraduates in the Political Science department and at the Kennedy Center. She, like many other BYU undergrads, took advantage of the opportunity to have her research published in a student journal—in this case, Sigma. This journal showcases some of the best undergrad research in the areas of political science and international relations as a flagship publication of the Kennedy Center’s Sigma Iota Rho: International Relations Honor Society. It is published yearly and supervised by Professor Scott Cooper, an associate professor in the Political Science department and an International Relations Affiliated Faculty member.
A quick look at highlights from the 2019 edition of Sigma gives a sense of the quality of research coming out of BYU undergrads, as well as the awards and opportunities available to these students.
- “Exploring Predictors of Women’s Political Representation in Sub-Saharan Africa”: in this paper, Townley looks at the factors that motivate and allow women to participate more in politics in sub-Saharan Africa, finding that regions with a lot of past conflict have more women in politics, probably because past hierarchies have been broken down. In addition to being published in Sigma, this paper won an essay contest at the Kennedy Center, which awarded Townley with a cash prize and an opportunity to present her paper to an audience of students.
- “The Effects of Immigration on U.S. Crime Rates”: this paper, by Kelly Duncan and Gabe Darger, found that higher immigration rates in a given area correlate with lower crime, which goes against much of the conventional wisdom in the United States about the effects of immigration. The paper was a Political Science department Best Paper winner, and Duncan had the opportunity to present a poster about the paper at the Midwest Political Science Association’s 2019 conference.
- “Rational Fear: The Effects of Terrorist Activity and Immigration on Attitudes Towards Security in the European Union”: this paper, by Matthew Easton and Connor Kreutz, examines attitudes within the European Union toward immigration, and what effect terrorist attacks have on these attitudes, ultimately finding that political ideologies have a notable impact on such attitudes. This paper was also a department Best Paper winner, and Easton and Kreutz had the opportunity to present a poster at MPSA 2019.
Sigma has been published yearly since 1984 and has given many students a chance to prepare and polish their research and have a publishing credit to their names. Sigma encourages students to submit various types of articles, from research to book reviews to policy briefs, that have been completed during the student’s time at BYU. The Sigma team works with the students to get their papers polished and prepared, and then prepares them for publication. Hard copies of the journal are printed each April and distributed at the BYU Political Affairs Society’s end-of-year banquet.
The chance to publish their research can be of great benefit to the students who participate. “Publishing my article has definitely had a positive impact on me,” says Townley. “I felt proud that my hard work had paid off, and it gave me confidence in the skills I had gained during my undergrad experience. It is also something that I have on my resume, and I think it definitely is a great talking point when I have applied for jobs.”
Sara Naumann Lopez (pictured in the image attached to this article), who is serving as Sigma’s Editor-in-Chief for the 2020–2021 school year, agrees. “It is extremely rewarding to have your paper read in a real-world context rather than just inside the classroom for a grade. Students that get published in Sigma have the opportunity to apply their own research to the current political climate.”
Sigma gives students a chance to have their original research read all over the world, says Dr. Cooper: “Publication in Sigma means that work is read by other students and faculty at BYU and is available for worldwide audiences through BYU’s online Scholars Archive. For example, in 2020, Sigma articles were downloaded by readers at 836 institutions and in 136 countries. The most popular paper last year was downloaded more than 1800 times by readers around the world. So Sigma allows our talented students to have their ideas heard all around the world.”
—Emily Nelson, 12 March 2021