Involvement in undergraduate research provides hand-on experience, application of course content, direct faculty interaction and peer-to-peer collaboration and cooperation. Typically, research is conducted outside of a classroom setting with students receiving independent study credit. Students work individually or in small groups with a faculty and/or graduate student mentor on a research question within the major. This gives students the opportunity to learn about experimental design, running experiments and collecting, aggregating and analyzing data. This experience can not only engage students in their major, but also enable them to determine if pursuing research in their field is a direction they want to head. While faculty get the benefit of having research assistants, being a research mentor can be time consuming, so there are limits to the number of undergraduate students that can participate. An alternative way of having undergraduate students conduct research is for individuals or groups to do small research projects as a significant part of a course. This might be appropriate in a course on methods or experimental design with the major.
Ways to Strengthen
Often undergraduate research assistants might help on a project by performing such tasks as entering data in a spreadsheet, coding videos, or transforming data. While these tasks can be extremely important to the research and can provide an entry into a lab, research experience could be more engaging and meaningful to the student. Undergraduate research students should have some understanding of the research question through readings and research-group meetings. This can be an opportunity to go beyond the textbook and introduce students to more in-depth peer-reviewed journal articles in the field. Undergraduate researchers should have hands-on experiences in experimental techniques for collecting data, and if permissible, a voice in research questions and methods. Research experience can provide opportunities to learn about forming testable hypothesis, experimental design, control groups and proper data analysis. Finally, it is important that student write a reflection on what they learned in their experience and formulate ideas about how the research could have been performed differently and ideas for the future.