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Undergraduate Research

Resources for course-based undergraduate research experiences

Mentorship

While UREs can work to democratize access to research opportunities, mentorship is key to maximizing the benefits of UREs. Hickey et al (2019) go so far as to assert that evidence-based mentorship is required to facilitate meaningful engagement with the research process. Moreover, intentional mentorship can also work to reduce power imbalances inherent in the research process by promoting research collaboration and encouraging students to feel as though their contributions are valuable and meaningful (Hickey et al, 2019).

When you begin to consider your mentoring approach, you should first outline parts of the research process in which novice researchers can be included and the skills that can be cultivated in those contexts (Hensel, 2018). Hensel (2018) highlights four research skills that mentors can work to develop with their undergraduate students:

  • Observing: Mentors can encourage undergraduate researcher to fine tune their observation skills such that they are able to observe accurate and relevant information that they can expand upon throughout the research process.
  • Questioning: Mentors can facilitate student development of critical analytical skills by engaging them in open-ended reflective discussions and activities that encourage them to question existing assumptions and their subtle biases. 
  • Connecting: Mentors can promote students' abilities to make connections between seemingly disparate points of data and information from different projects and discipline. Mentors can do so by encouraging students to explore beyond the limits of what initially seems relevant. 
  • Use of evidence: After students are able to collect information, mentors can facilitate student ability to use said evidence to draw valid conclusions. One way mentors can encourage this skill is by having students conduct literature reviews and engage them in discussions regarding the credibility and reliability of their findings. Mentors can promote a questioning of how other researchers have come to the conclusion they did from their data. 

(For more information, refer to University of Calgary's 2019 CURES handbook)

Below are key elements of mentoring undergraduate research that mentors can include their mentorship practice (Hickey et al, 2019):

  • Collaborative goal-setting: Mentors should create opportunities for undergraduate researchers to express their personal goals and expectations for the research process. By doing so, mentors are acknowledging that knowledge is co-created between their personal experiences, previously acquired skills, and the input of others. 
  • Reflect: Mentors can encourage students to reflect on their personal motivations and their progress throughout the research process. This reflection can occur privately and/or discursively with the mentor. This practice encourages students to actively participate in the co-construction. This can be facilitated through regular check ins and encouraging debrief sessions for student teams. 
  • Fade Control: Progressively reduce formal guidance as students gain greater confidence and skill performing essential research tasks. This practice encourages students to take greater ownership of their research. While the mentor maintains their responsibilities to their students, their role can progress from careful monitoring, supervising, and simply directing.  

Lopatto (2003) found that while faculty may emphasize research outcomes and content retention, students most valued faculty communicating support and care in student work.

While there are various ways to be an effective mentor, what follows is a list of best practices that mentors can consider incorporating to better facilitate student learning (Shanahan et al, 2015).

  1. Do strategic pre-planning in order to readily respond to students’ varying needs and abilities throughout the research process.
  2. et clear and well-scaffolded expectations for undergraduate researchers.
  3. Teach the technical skills, methods, and techniques of conducting research in the discipline.
  4. Balance rigorous expectations with emotional support and appropriate personal interest in students.
  5. Build community among groups of undergraduate researchers and mentors, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and any other members of the research team.
  6. Dedicate time as well to one-on-one and hands-on mentoring.
  7. Increase student ownership of the research over time
  8. Support students’ professional development through networking and explaining norms of the discipline.
  9. Create intentional, laddered opportunities for peers and “near peers” to learn mentoring skills and to bring larger numbers of undergraduates into scholarly opportunities.
  10. Encourage students to share their findings and provide guidance on how to do so effectively in oral and poster presentations and in writing.

From Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors by Shanahan et al, 2015  From:  https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/undergraduate-research-ensuring-a-high-impact-and-resilient-experience-for-all/