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:
- 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.
- It is innovative: it goes beyond surveying existing work to produce a new contribution in its field.
- 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.
- It is mentored: students involved in undergraduate research or creative activity work closely, often in collegial relationships, with faculty mentors.
- 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.
- Undergraduate research is intensely satisfying because it is one’s own original work. All undergraduate research is inherently creative, regardless of field.
- Its emphasis on inquiry and problem-solving provides academic skills that transfer directly and effectively to other undergraduate coursework.
- Undergraduate research produces rewarding intellectual relationships and partnerships between students and their mentors and co- workers.
- 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.
- It is a valuable credential in the eyes of graduate programs and potential employers.
- 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.
- Mentoring undergraduate research can be extraordinarily satisfying, since it involves faculty with students working at their very best.
- Undergraduate research is increasingly recognized and valued by institutions, academic administrators, and granting agencies as a significant, desirable educational practice.
- 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:
- more motivated, self-directing students
- greater professionalism in the work of both faculty and students
- closer relationships between students and faculty
- intellectual self-awareness and pride that may spill over into conventional curriculum design and classroom instruction
- prestige in the educational community as a result of public student achievement