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Directing Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research, sometimes also known as scholarly or creative work, is one of the "High Impact Practices" strongly encouraged by education experts.  This experience will help your students grow and mature and can make an enormous difference in their career paths and lives. 

But what about you?  Why should you become a faculty advisor to an undergraduate researcher?  Besides the pleasure of introducing a student to the joys of doing research, there are many advantages to be gained by becoming a faculty advisor.  Unlike graduate students and postdocs who need to produce scholarly products to move on, the goal for undergraduate research is to expose students to the way knowledge is discovered or created, and the critical thinking that goes into this process. 

This means that an undergraduate research project can be extremely exploratory.  For example, faculty have had undergraduate researchers

  • test new assays or techniques and compare them to established ones
  • try completely new directions the faculty member is thinking of moving in
  • develop associated information that can enrich or inform a current project
  • produce preliminary data for an idea or to determine project feasibility
  • start studies that are collaborations between faculty in different areas or fields

Alternatively, an undergraduate can be an invaluable part of an already established project by

  • helping to collect and analyze additional data sets
  • managing sample collections or research materials
  • developing reagents or tools necessary for a project
  • carrying out meta-analyses on existing data
  • becoming expert in specific techniques or tools

These are just a few concrete examples of how undergraduate researchers can contribute to your scholarship.  In addition, the fact that undergraduates are NOT yet experts in our field give them an often unappreciated advantage—they don’t know what the “accepted wisdom” is yet, which means they may ask questions that we are too “sophisticated” to ask!  And sometimes those na├»ve questions lay bare assumptions that the experts in the field have forgotten are assumptions!  These questions can lead to truly paradigm-shifting studies.