Getting Started in Mentoring Undergraduate Research
Why Mentor Undergraduate Research?
According to decades of research, participation in research as an undergraduate has a high impact on student experience, learning, and outcomes. Undergraduate students who participate typically see better retention rates, better grades, and better graduation rates. This is particularly true of at-risk populations, such as first-generation, non-traditional, and low-income students.
All this is fantastic news, but it does lead to the question – if undergraduate research is so great for students, what are its impacts on faculty and graduate students? You are busy trying to do your own research and creative activity, publish, complete a thesis… mentoring others can be time consuming… undergraduates may have few or no necessary skills and knowledge.
Whereas studies of the outcomes of UR on undergraduates abound, there is very little quantitative understanding of impacts on mentors. However, a great deal of time, energy, and qualitative research by members of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) suggests that the impacts are real, and for the most part, where institutional support is strong, as it is at USU, positive.
At USU, mentoring of undergraduate research/creative activity is explicitly recognized as potential evidence of efficacy or excellence in University Policy 405: Tenured and Term Appointments – Evaluation, Promotion, and Retention. Specifically, 405.2.2 (1) lists “evidence of mentoring inside and outside the classroom, including work with graduate or undergraduate researchers.”
Most USU departments have a credit-bearing course, numbered DEPT 4900 that allows you, as a faculty member or graduate instructor, to document undergraduate research mentoring as part of your teaching load. If your department does not have such a course number, USU 4900 [add hyperlink] (https://catalog.usu.edu/preview_course_nopop.php?catoid=12&coid=92729) was created to address that lack.
USU rewards excellence in undergraduate research mentoring through the endowed Peak Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year awards selected by each college. The University-wide URM of the Year is selected from among the college winners. Recipients of these awards are invited to serve on the Undergraduate Research Advisory Board for a year.
National awards for undergraduate research mentoring are also made by some professional societies (for example, the National Center for Women and Information Technology) and by CUR (https://www.cur.org/what/awards/), and its divisions
- Arts and Humanities (endowed by our own Dr.Joyce Kinkead) https://www.cur.org/what/awards/artshum/
- Biology https://www.cur.org/who/governance/divisions/biology/mentoraward/
- Chemistry https://www.cur.org/Noms_2019ChemCUR_mentorship_awd/
- Math and Computer Science http://www.mathcscur.org/index.php/awards/
- Geology https://geocur.org/awards/faculty-mentors/
- Physics and Astronomy https://www.cur.org/faculty_mentor_awd_noms_curpa/
- Psychology https://www.cur.org/who/governance/divisions/psychology/mentoraward/
Membership in CUR (https://www.cur.org/) is only $80/year and connects you to a wealth of resources for mentoring in your discipline. USU encourages faculty who wish to run for divisional leadership roles to do so – limited support (with the expectation of departmental or college matching) is available to faculty members or teams wishing to participate in CUR activities, such as conferences, institutes, annual business meetings, or workshops.
See our Documenting UR Mentoring resource page for tips on how to include your UR activities in your CV, Digital Measures, and promotion and tenure materials.
Research mentoring related activities can contribute to your ETE 10 certificate, if you are participating in that program. Catch our Getting Started in Undergraduate Research for Faculty workshop each fall and count that as an “Engage” experience.
Undergraduate researchers can make important contributions to your creative or scholarly work. This is true even in disciplines where the traditional lab- or field-assistantship model does not provide a blueprint for training novice researchers under the guidance of more experienced student and faculty researchers. Please consult our Mentoring UR in the Disciplines pages (coming soon!) for expert advice from experienced UR mentors.
Co-publishing, presenting, exhibiting, or performing with students means additional items for your CV and demonstrates a commitment to collaborative models, which are rapidly becoming the gold-standard in numerous fields of research, from business, to health-sciences, to the arts.
Major granting institutions, both governmental and private, value undergraduate research mentoring as part of their commitment to developing the next generation of researchers. Examples include
- NIH Research Enhancement Awards (R-15): stated goals include “exposing students to research”
- NSF Career Awards: undergraduate research can be important evidence for “an integrated path that will lead to a successful career as an outstanding researcher and educator”
- NEH Humanities Connections Planning Grants – specifically focus on developing research based, interdisciplinary curricula for undergraduates
The Division of Research Development (https://research.usu.edu/rd/) within the Office of Research can help you identify further opportunities to leverage your UR mentoring activity in the competitive grantwriting arena.
Mentoring undergraduate researchers as part of a team can mean giving your graduate students additional support and the career-building opportunity to become mentors themselves. Undergraduates may take a little time to train, but they are often willing to volunteer their time during the initial learning phase, and further along can be compensated either with credit or with wages (remember, you can post UR assistant positions as open to Federal Work Study eligible students, which really leverages your student-employee budget).
Mentoring students, though rewarding, has a learning curve. This is not like teaching a student in a classroom. This is more like fostering success in an apprentice or junior fellow. Here is a great article that shows some strategies for successfully mentoring a student. If you would like more information about this topic, please contact our office. We have many resources we can show you, and people that we can connect you with so the mentoring experience is as smooth as possible.
Aside from the documentable and quantifiable advantages of supporting undergraduate researchers in their development afforded by USU’s strong support of this kind of activity, faculty and graduate students who mentor undergraduate researchers often talk about how immensely satisfying the experience is.
Undergraduate Researchers can be like colleagues. Prof. Christy Glass said of her student, Grant Holyoak, “Working with Grant was like working with a bright, energetic and hardworking junior colleague: it was fun, productive and very fulfilling” and Prof. Bruce Bugbee said that working with Kevin Cope, his student, was like: “working with an outstanding graduate student.”
Student researchers are motivated and productive. Prof. Karen Mock said of her student, Brianne Palmer, “Brianne had an incredible work ethic and demonstrated remarkable independence and drive” and Prof. Blake Tullis said “Sometimes that undergraduate researcher catches the vision of the study, begins to manage much of the research machine, produces 5 peer reviewed journal publications and 3 conference papers, and becomes a life-long friend.”
Student researchers inspire. Prof. David Brown said that “Working with students like Sarah [Mousley] is how I maintain my inspiration. I think we hold ourselves responsible for instilling our excitement for our discipline into our students, but working with Sarah renewed the excitement I have for mine.”