The Mentorship Maze: Navigating the Undergraduate-Researcher Quandary

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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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Mentoring is believed to be one of the most influential factors in US efforts to encourage college‐aged students to seek careers in science, yet the role that mentoring plays in this process has not been elucidated. The researchers were interested in understanding whether the long‐held beliefs about the importance of mentoring would be revealed as what actually occurs in an undergraduate research program. They describe students’ perceptions of the mentoring process and students’ beliefs about how it impacted their experiences as undergraduate researchers and their development as scientists. Also described are professors’ perceptions of their roles and effectiveness as mentors in students’ development as scientists. A multi‐case narrative analysis was conducted of two groups, undergraduate science scholars (n=5) and mentoring professors (n=5), who were each interviewed on two occasions at the beginning and end of the first year of a funded research program. As this grounded research study shows, students and professors described student gains as increased technical expertise and communication skills. Professors suggested that they were available to students on a regular and frequent basis. However, students’ experiences suggested a contradiction. They were often mentored by postgraduates, technical assistants, and other students; their meetings with mentoring professors were infrequent and at times distant. With respect to mentoring, this finding highlights the differences between beliefs and the reality of what was delivered. Professors discussed the challenges associated with mentoring including the recruitment of and difficulty of working with students whose first language was not English and concerns about the quality of instruction from graduate students.
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Mentored undergraduate research has been identified as a high-impact practice that enhances teaching and learning in higher education. It is reported to influence students’ academic, affective, and behavioral outcomes. However, there is only an emerging literature related to student outcomes associated with identity development, specifically students’ personal and professional identities. This integrative literature review examines the intersections and interrelationship across mentoring, undergraduate research, and student identity development. Its results uncover the complexity of the constructs, and their dynamic interrelationship, especially when viewed through the lenses of the sociocultural perspective grounded in the notion of mediated action. Two assumptions undergird this perspective: first, that all investigation takes place at the intersection of these constructs with mediated action, not individuals in isolation, as a unit of analysis; and, second, that any study of identity must focus on an understanding of identity as multiple, dynamic, and situated in personal and cultural contexts (institutional, disciplinary, and external community culture and values). Thus, the sociocultural perspective and its underlying assumptions shape the proposed research agenda. This research agenda has the potential to advance current knowledge related to mentored undergraduate research and the confluence of elements that contribute to student personal and cultural identities (academic, disciplinary, and professional). Findings from this work will inform our understanding of learning and knowledge construction in sociocultural context, and the trajectory of identity development of students engaged in high-impact learning experiences.
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Little information is available about how departments might improve undergraduate students' access to research experience. At a midsized psychology department (550 majors, 21 full-time faculty), we identified 5 barriers in our existing program (lack of student awareness, unequal student access, poor curricular timing, lack of publicity, and uneven access/incentives for faculty) and implemented 5 changes (application procedures, advertisement, assessment and communication with majors, establishment of a departmental newsletter, and restructured faculty teaching assignments). Following implementation, the number of involved students increased from 40 (11-year average) to 87 (Year 1) and to 117 (Year 2) and number of involved faculty increased from 60% to 94%. Our findings suggest that implementing systematic and programmatic changes may help to increase undergraduate involvement in research. (Contains 1 table and 1 figure.)
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,,Abstract What does it take to persuade research university professors to try something new in their
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In the past decade, college and university officials have tried to formalize avenues that provide undergraduate students with opportunities to conduct research, either in direct collaboration with a faculty member or as independent research under the supervision of a faculty member. Administrators and faculty have worked to institutionalize these programs because they recognize the intrinsic benefits of these faculty student collaborations. Since most faculty balance a wide range of demands, we wanted to understand how faculty members view these partnerships in the larger context of their work. In 2008, as the Undergraduate Research Conference at our midsize public New England University entered its ninth year, the evaluation committee administered a survey to examine faculty members' attitudes toward undergraduate research endeavors. Our results show that faculty felt overwhelmingly positive about their role as mentors. Full professors indicate more satisfaction in this role than associate and assistant professors.
This study examined the perceptions of 155 science and engineering faculty at a mid-size university with a very extensive undergraduate research program. The faculty thought the undergraduate research experience provided important educational benefits to the students, in good agreement with results from a recent alumni survey. The faculty who supervised undergraduates for a longer period of time and who modified their research program to accommodate undergraduates perceived a greater enhancement of important cognitive and personal skills. Undergraduate research was also believed to provide important mentoring and teaching experience for graduate students who worked with undergraduate research assistants.
Many institutions of higher education confront seemingly unrelated needs of graduate students, who need not only to complete their dissertations but also to learn how to become proficient mentors for undergraduates as they move on to faculty roles. The graduate students are increasingly searching out high-impact learning experiences such as involvement with undergraduate research. The program we describe in this article offers a solution to these issues by pairing undergraduates with graduate students to work on their dissertation research. Undergraduates undertake hands-on research while learning about graduate school, and the graduate students learn about the mentoring process while receiving assistance that allows them to keep their dissertations moving toward completion.
Among science educators, current interest in undergraduate research (UR) is influenced both by the traditional role of the research apprenticeship in scientists’ preparation and by concerns about replacing the current scientific workforce. Recent research has begun to demonstrate the range of personal, professional, and intellectual benefits for STEM students from participating in UR, yet the processes by which student-advisor interactions contribute to these benefits are little understood. We employ situated learning theory (Lave and Wenger, Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge in 1991) to examine the role of student-advisor interactions in apprenticing undergraduate researchers, particularly in terms of acculturating students to the norms, values, and professional practice of science. This qualitative study examines interviews with a diverse sample of 73 undergraduate research students from two research-extensive institutions. From these interviews, we articulate a continuum of practices that research mentors employed in three domains to support undergraduate scientists-in-training: professional socialization, intellectual support, and personal/emotional support. The needs of novice students differed from those of experienced students in each of these areas. Novice students needed clear expectations, guidelines, and orientation to their specific research project, while experienced students needed broader socialization in adopting the traits, habits, and temperament of scientific researchers. Underrepresented minority students, and to a lesser extent, women, gained confidence from their interactions with their research mentors and broadened their future career and educational possibilities. Undergraduate research at research-extensive universities exemplifies a cycle of scientific learning and practice where undergraduate researchers are mentored by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, who are themselves apprentices to faculty members. As such, research mentors of undergraduate students should be aware of the dual scientific and educational aspects of their advising role and its significance in shaping students’ identities and career trajectories. KeywordsUndergraduate research–Mentoring–Undergraduate science education–Identity
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