Mentoring Undergraduate Research

Keep in mind that involving undergraduate students in original research, scholarship, and creative activity can be very rewarding to both you and students but that it does takes work. 

Often, faculty find their work with undergraduates invites them to re-imagine their approaches to course material and to devise innovative teaching methodologies, creating an environment of active learning while nurturing future scholars in their fields.  Undergraduate researchers also often make significant contributions to faculty’s own research programs; read examples of the assistance undergraduate researchers have provided.

Thus, students and faculty can benefit from the undergraduate research process in a variety of direct and indirect ways.

We recommend:

  • Communicate clearly what you expect of students who work with you in terms of responsibilities and time commitments; it's best to write it down in contract form so that there will be no misunderstandings later.
  • Actively encourage students' questions, doing what you can to reduce their natural fear of seeming "stupid" if they ask a "stupid" question.
  • Remember that undergraduate students may not have the background that graduate students do and may need extra time from you or a graduate student in order to master what they need to know.
  • At the same time, note that many mentors of undergraduate researchers find that students give them fresh insights into their work; listen to your students' comments and seek out their thoughts on the project.
  • Establish a vehicle for regular communication between you and your student researcher (e.g., weekly meetings, monthly progress reports, conference calls, or the like). 
  • Jointly establish a schedule for completing tasks and try to stick with it.
  • Have fun!

Helpful Resources:

Council on Undergraduate Research
The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) and its affiliated colleges, universities, and individuals share a focus on providing undergraduate research opportunities for faculty and students.  CUR boasts a robust set of online resources and printed materials. 

Consider the value of becoming a member of CUR: visit Is CUR Right for You?

Some relevant publications from CUR:

National Academy of Sciences
Ignore the "Science and Engineering" in the title of this on-line book entitled, Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor in Science and Engineering. It contains a broad range of information and guidance on mentoring.