Undergraduate Research

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Faculty Incentives for Mentoring Undergraduates

There are many benefits for faculty of working with undergraduate researchers.

Financial. Faculty in disciplines that are less oriented around large funding agencies may benefit from the availability of undergraduates who are interested in contributing to their research on a volunteer basis. This also serves as an advantage for junior faculty who are still working their way up to large sources of external funding. When seeking outside funding, budgeting for undergraduate research assistants may offer cost advantages compared to other types of assistantships.

Broader impacts. The National Science Foundation reviews the merit of proposals partly on the broader impact of the proposed work. Budgeting to include undergraduate research assistants can give a project a broader impact by promoting teaching, training, and learning.

Contributions to the literature. Some student-initiated undergraduate research projects go on to publication, where they can make a novel contribution to the mentor’s field. Other projects may complement or supplement other work done in the same lab.

Training the next generation. Students who start doing research as undergraduates have a head start in their preparation for graduate school. Working with these highly motivated students as undergraduates can lead to their eventually becoming successful researchers — and possible collaborators — in their own right.

Connecting research and undergraduate education. As the role of higher education in society continues to change, universities have become more concerned about striking a balance between their research agendas and their mission to educate undergraduates. Engaging students in research ties these two aims together uniquely: undergraduate researchers deepen their knowledge of a content area, they acquire the technical skills needed to advance to graduate programs, and they develop professional skills that will serve them throughout their careers. UT faculty members have identified steps that faculty members and administrators can take to facilitate undergraduate involvement in research

  • incentivizing new models of engaged learning with course releases, stipends, or other forms of remuneration
  • creating networks of faculty members with an interest in integrating teaching and research
  • bringing practica to earlier stages of undergraduate education
  • granting formal recognition or credit to faculty who mentor undergraduate researchers
  • engaging in more cross-disciplinary research that can include students from several majors
  • taking advantage of existing programs (e.g. FIG, FRI)
  • imparting on students a desire for aspiration and exploration
  • including students at all levels