Article

The Mentorship Maze: Navigating the Undergraduate-Researcher Quandary

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Abstract

Mentoring undergraduate student research is both challenging and rewarding for faculty members. With so many other obligations in research, teaching, and service, inexperienced faculty members may become quickly overwhelmed by volunteering time to mentor undergraduate research projects. Mentoring undergraduate research is often categorized as service; this may lead tenure-track assistant professors who are working to build a research portfolio to opt out of the mentorship process. However, in the face of challenges, many faculty members still take on undergraduate research projects due to their own intrinsic motivation to help students. Previous research has shown great value for both the faculty mentor and undergraduate student researcher; for instance, faculty mentors gain personal satisfaction and feel more relatable to students while student researchers improve social, research, and academic skills. The three authors of this paper have experienced the highs and lows of mentoring undergraduate research and provide recommendations to help the process run smoothly. Identifying and understanding potential problematic areas such as faculty-student expectation miscommunication, student trainings, and project design for the undergraduate level will help develop a more bulletproof plan of action. The recommendations discussed in this paper include proper planning of a research timeline, consideration of outside faculty and student commitments, effective communication, building confidence and independence in the student researcher in the midst of unrelenting supervision, and lastly but most importantly, practicing patience. The student researcher-faculty mentor relationship is important to the higher education system and with fine-tuning of the process, more faculty may be inclined to contribute.

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