What is Undergraduate Research?

Undergraduate research is best defined through examples: click here for abstracts of recent presentations at the SCCUR Conference, which represent projects undertaken by Southern Californian students in several academic disciplines.

Undergraduate research generally has the following characteristics:

  1. It is inquiry-based: it seeks to define and solve a problem, to address a question, to synthesize knowledge or technique in a new way.
  2. It is innovative: it goes beyond surveying existing work to produce a new contribution in its field.
  3. It is substantial and sustained: while it may occur in the context of academic courses, it is usually more extensive and intensive than conventional coursework.
  4. It is mentored: students involved in undergraduate research or creative activity work closely, often in collegial relationships, with faculty mentors.
  5. It is professional: it follows procedures and presents its results according to the professional standards of its discipline.

In addition, undergraduate research is frequently collaborative, involving students with other researchers addressing similar problems.

For Students:

  1. Undergraduate research is intensely satisfying because it is one’s own original work. All undergraduate research is inherently creative, regardless of field.
  2. Its emphasis on inquiry and problem-solving provides academic skills that transfer directly and effectively to other undergraduate coursework.
  3. Undergraduate research produces rewarding intellectual relationships and partnerships between students and their mentors and co- workers.
  4. It is a fast track to professionalism, both because it introduces students directly and in a hands-on way to the tools and methods of their disciplines, and because it introduces them to a community of scholars, researchers, and practitioners.
  5. It is a valuable credential in the eyes of graduate programs and potential employers.

For Faculty:

  1. Undergraduate research is effective pedagogy. Students learn and remember the results of their own investigations. Undergraduate research models professional behavior; it provides students with a motivation for academic inquiry; it develops discipline.
  2. Mentoring undergraduate research can be extraordinarily satisfying, since it involves faculty with students working at their very best.
  3. Undergraduate research is increasingly recognized and valued by institutions, academic administrators, and granting agencies as a significant, desirable educational practice.
  4. Mentoring can help support a faculty member’s own research projects in a number of ways: by assisting in obtaining funds, by creating research collaborations and communities, by suggesting new approaches and research questions.

For Institutions:
Institutions that commit energy and resources to undergraduate research receive all of the benefits listed above for faculty and students, in the form of:

  1. more motivated, self-directing students
  2. greater professionalism in the work of both faculty and students
  3. closer relationships between students and faculty
  4. intellectual self-awareness and pride that may spill over into conventional curriculum design and classroom instruction
  5. prestige in the educational community as a result of public student achievement