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Laird Essay Competition

All University of Kansas students actively pursuing interests in Russian, East European and Eurasian studies (REES) in any KU academic program are eligible to submit an essay of 2,000 words on any topic dealing with the region.

The essay should be a "think piece," not a formal research paper.

It should explore a key issue relevant to the region based on any discipline. For example, students could explore the causes and consequences of the recent political changes in the region, discuss the implications of Europeanization on national languages and literatures, the role of religion today, or compose an essay on another topic.

Students may use papers from KU classes, but submissions must be reformatted to meet the following criteria: typed, 2,000 words, double-spaced, and in 12-point font size. 

Starting in 2014 Laird Essay awards will be distributed to two categories: Undergraduate and Graduate. Undergraduate essays will only be compared with other undergraduate essays, likewise with graduate submissions.

If you have further questions regarding the topic or submission, please contact the department at


Cash Awards

Undergraduate Award: $250 cash award

Graduate Award: $500 cash award and $75 worth of books (of his or her choice)

Laird Essay Winners may be invited to present their papers at the last CREES Brownbag Lecture of the academic year.

How to Enter

Submit an anonymous version of your essay to the CREES office in 320 Bailey Hall by 5:00 pm or email to 

Deadline: March 27, 2015

Undergraduate Submissions: please state your last name and use "Undergraduate Laird Essay" in the subject heading. For example: "Smith Undergraduate Laird Essay."

Graduate Submissions:please state your last name use "Graduate Laird Essay" in the subject heading.  For example: "Smith Graduate Laird Essay."

Note: Those essays that do not specify whether they are undergraduate or graduate will automatically be included in the graduate pool of submissions.

A committee will evaluate the essays and select the winning entries. A minimum of 2 essays must be submitted for a category to be considered. The committee reserves the right to issue no award.


Research Paper vs. Thinking [Opinion] Piece
Below are some guidelines on how to differentiate an opinion piece from a research paper that should help students to revise their course papers into “thinking” pieces suitable for the Laird Essay Contest

The purpose of a research paper is to synthesize existing scholarly research and, in many cases, analyze new data to shed new light on a particular topic and to, ideally, advance the state of knowledge. The focus of such a paper is the research question: what do we know about a particular topic, and what are we aiming to find out through the process of research? The audience for such papers is that of scholars interested in the topic, and thus the paper can use technical language and be fairly narrow in scope.

The purpose of an opinion piece is to convincingly argue for an author’s opinion on a controversial issue, i.e. an issue about which a range of opinions, usually conflicting, can be presented.  Opinion pieces may be connected to current topics (e.g., politics, the environment, global issues), cultural and literary issues, historical issues, and more. The audience for opinion pieces is broader than that of research papers: the Laird Essay is aimed at people with interest in REES who may or may not be scholars of a particular topic. Where a research paper aims to advance the state of knowledge about a particular topic, an opinion piece seeks to inform and persuade its audience.

Both research papers and opinion pieces in REES are expected to use primary and secondary sources. Though the bibliographical requirements are somewhat more relaxed for an opinion piece, writers are encouraged to avoid inaccuracies and overgeneralizations. An opinion piece calls for more personal interpretation and perspective on the material and issues. Students are expected to develop their own thoughts and reflections in connection to the issue. A thinking piece that is meant to be thought-provoking can also contain elements of speculation.

An opinion [think] piece is also less structured than a term paper. Though, think piece need not follow a formal essay organization, clarity is still important. In the opinion piece, students can be more personal and conversational, but are still expected to provide insight, understanding, and educate the reader without being preachy.


Previous Winners

CREES has honored the late Dr. Roy D. Laird, a longtime member of the REES and Political Science faculties, and Mrs. Betty Laird, whose support makes this prize possible, with a special display outside the main office. The plaque in the display bears the names of all previous winners of the Competition.

  • 2014 — Graduate Award: Robert Jameson (History, Ph.D. Candidate), “Crimea as Kosovo and Sudetenland: The Peril of Historical Narratives in the 2014 Russo-Ukrainian Crisis.” [PDF]
  • 2014 — Undergraduate Award: Natalie Cristin Perry (BA Slavic Languages & Literatures/REES Co-Major), "Progress through Dispute: The Caspian Oil Power Struggle and Its Effects on Central Asian Cooperation"
  • 2013 — Vincent Artman (Geography, Ph.D. Candidate), "Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan: Between Nationalism and Nation-State."  [PDF]
  • 2012 — Ruoxi Du (REES MA), "Anti-Chinese Sentiment in Russia: Threats of "Chinese Invasion" or Fears of Russian Xenophobia" [PDF]
  • 2011 — Austin Charron (Geography), "The Sibiriak Movement and the Roots of Modern Siberian Regionalism." [PDF]
  • 2010 — Cody Brown (Political Science), "Comrades in Crime: The Rise of the Balkan Mafia in the Former Yugoslavia."
  • 2009 — Laura Dean (Political Science), "Implications of East European Sex tourism in a Neocolonial Context."
  • 2008 — Brett Chloupek (Geography, Ph.D. candidate) "Slovakia’s Gypsies: Centuries of Problems, Few New Solutions."
  • 2007 — Michelle Tran (REES BA) "Beyond Disney: The Poetry and Magic of Soviet Animation, 1962–1990.”
  • 2006 — Peter Tosco (REES MA) "An Impasse to Peace: A Look at the Continuing Deadlock in the Kurile Islands Dispute."
  • 2005 — Brooke Waldron (REES MA) "Serbian Orthodox Church."
  • 2004 — Adrian Erlinger (REES MA) "Shock Art and Orthodox Thugs: Politics and Contemporary Art in Russia."
  • 2003 — Lindsey Collier (BA Slavic/REES) "An International Dilemma: Russia vs. Chechnya."
  • 2002 — Patrick Crabb (REES), "New Opportunities: The Impact of the Pope's Visit to Ukraine."
  • 2001 — Uroš Petrović (Sociology), "There Goes Yugoslavism, Here Comes South Slavism."
  • 2000 — Matthew Schmidt (REES MA), "The Spiritual and Moral Costs of Transition in Russia."
  • 1999 — Paul Wanke (History), "Western Influence on post-Communist Russia."
  • 1998 — Jennifer Cook (REES MA), "Ecological and Health Aspects of the Transition Period."
  • 1997 — Sheri Deeter (REES MA), "Nationalism: Bane, Boom, or Blur?"
  • 1996 — R. Brannan Cass (REES MA), "The Russian Orthodox Church: A Time of Troubles."
  • 1995 — Paul Sutherland (REES MA), "United We Stand, Divided We Get Rich: The Woes of Alexander Isayevich."

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