"Do it for your students," Professor Karl Uitti encouraged Sarah-Jane Murray as she thanked him for advising her Ph.D. work. Uitti's advice resonated within Dr. Murray and influenced her to become deeply invested in undergraduate research at Baylor University. Her dedication to students and research prompted Baylor to award her the prestigious Outstanding Faculty Award for teaching during the 2005-2006 school year.
As assistant professor of medieval literature and French in the Honors College, Dr. Murray works with students who have passions similar to her own to explore the Middle Ages with new, innovative methods. One of the first research projects she participated in, "The Charrette Project," made early manuscripts of Chrétien de Troyes's Le Chevalier de la Charrette easily accessible to the scholarly world by integrating computer science with literary studies. Currently, the project is regularly updated and modified by some of Dr. Murray's students. Dr. Murray's student assistants Stephen Bush, B.A. Bioinformatics, and Amanda Weppler, B.A. University Scholars, are currently transcribing an Old French manuscript for a related project. "I don't think I would have had the chance to do half the things I have without my students and supportive colleagues," she gratefully says, adding that interdisciplinarity is key for innovative scholarly work.
Though she grew up visiting castles, churches, and monasteries in Europe, specifically in Lyons, France, where she attended lycée (high school), Dr. Murray's passion for medieval France did not develop until she reached graduate school at Princeton University. Prior to graduate school, she studied engineering for three years at Georgia Tech before switching her major to philosophy and French. During those years of difficult, intense research, classroom learning and scholarly work united in her mind, laying the foundation for the research she currently does with students.
Since coming to Baylor in 2003, Dr. Murray has invited twelve different students to coauthor scholarly articles and encyclopedia entries with her. Additionally, she has arranged for four more students to author their own articles. "I want students to have the opportunity to understand what it means to participate in the scholarly community at large," she explains. One of Dr. Murray's previous students, Hannah Zdansky, presented her honors thesis, "Romancing Bernard of Clairvaux: Chrétien de Troyes and the Four Degrees of Love," at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Afterward, professors from prestigious universities all over the country commended her presentation. Zdansky won a Fulbright to study in Ireland based on her research with Dr. Murray.
In addition to all of the work she does with her own students, Dr. Murray was recently appointed as faculty mentor to the Honors College Living and Learning Center. She looks forward to "creating a truly collegiate experience, where students can pursue their learning outside of the classroom" in another sphere at Baylor. Dr. Murray enjoys identifying with students when they realize the effect their research has on the scholarly world. "Some will go impact the business and legal worlds; some will devote themselves to perpetuating the tradition of carrying the torch of lessons that were assembled by teachers and scholars for thousands of years," she reflects. "And that's very medieval, too."