Professor Jane Newman enjoys mentoring undergraduates who are eager to learn and not afraid to challenge existing knowledge and opinions. She challenges these students to engage in their research at a professional level, never allowing their undergraduate status to serve as an excuse for lesser accomplishment. Her goal is to prepare her mentees to compete for positions in top graduate schools and for prestigious scholarships. UROP commends Professor Newman for her passionate work with undergraduate researchers, a passion that is exemplified by her service as a member of the UROP Faculty Advisory Board.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

Over the course of my quite extended career at UCI (!), I have come in contact with a great number of very bright and motivated students. Many of them did not know, however, that they could pursue their intellectual interests beyond college in graduate degree programs, for example, in which they could be paid by universities to pursue the topics in which they are interested! So I began to develop a ‘pattern’ of sponsoring serious and committed undergraduate researchers for UCI-based fellowships (UROP, SURP), showing them how to build research profiles that would make them competitive for admission to the nation’s top Ph.D. programs as well as for prestigious outside scholarships (Fulbright, Marshall, etc.).

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I look for students with supple and engaged minds who are not afraid to challenge existing paradigms of research and are eager to resist what is ‘trendy’ in scholarship. I warn them to take at least two courses with me and to talk to some of my prior mentees before they sign on, however. I am not in favor of watering down research on any level and particularly not on the undergraduate level. I thus expect students who work with me to rise to a level of professionalism that makes them competitive with the best graduates from elite private universities. This takes a lot of work!

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

Usually, I meet once a week with my undergraduate mentees, and ask them to produce a serious amount of writing each week! This writing takes the form of engagement with prior traditions of scholarship on their chosen topic, close readings of ‘texts,’ and the exploration of related issues and fields (I will ask a literature student to investigate military history, for example, or an art history student to investigate the history of schooling). I am also very committed to familiarizing my students with how to work with older documents in libraries and archives. For example, I asked one of my undergraduate mentees to travel to Duke University to examine the papers of a well-known German-Jewish scholar of Renaissance Italy who had fled Nazi Germany to come to this country and left his papers to Duke. She was so well prepared that the archivist thought she was a professor! I asked another to go to Italy and investigate how a particular museum had come to display its sculpture holdings in a certain way. Do research, see the world!

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

A number of my mentees have won Fulbright scholarships and have been accepted to prestigious Ph.D. programs on the basis of the work we did together (not because of my mentoring, I hasten to add, but because they were very bright and promising in their own right!) But, to be honest, sometimes students discover, through doing a research project, that research is not what they want to do. I think this is a good thing too. Doing research is hard, it’s often boring (when you’re not flying off to exotic places, that is!), and it’s sometimes lonely. Better to discover that now.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

In some cases, on a purely selfish level, I have learned a huge amount about issues about which I initially knew something and needed to know more. I have also learned massive amounts about fields about which I initially knew nothing at all! What I have really learned, though, is that UCI undergraduates are competitive with undergraduates at any other institution in the U.S.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Insist that your mentor actually work with you closely. This happens most easily, at a Research I university, when you agree to work on a topic on which your faculty mentor is currently working. This may mean that you have to run to catch up with her/him in terms of a specific area of study, or that you might have to begin researching a topic in which the faculty member is interested, but which you may initially find, well, arcane. But a good mentor will allow you to take the project in the direction in which you are interested as long as it is still related to his/her interests.

Research Interests: Comparative Renaissance and Baroque Studies; Walter Benjamin and the Baroque; History and Theories of Comparative Literature; Cultural Studies and Criticism; History and Theories of Rhetoric

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '09 Professor Donald D. Hoffman
Nov. '09 Professor Bruce Blumberg
Oct. '09 Professor A. J. Shaka
Sep. '09 Assistant Professor William M. Tomlinson
Aug. '09 Professor William C. Tang
Jul. '09 Professor Donald McKayle
Jun. '09 Assistant Professor Gillian R. Hayes
May. '09 Professor Jane O. Newman
Apr. '09 Associate Professor Mark P. Petracca
Mar. '09 Professor Richard T. Robertson