Balancing our teaching loads and personal scholarly interests with mentoring undergraduate research and creative activities is a challenge. A few suggestions are given below, if you have some tips you would like to share, be sure to pass them along to our office and we will consider adding them to the list.
Why serve as a mentor to undergraduates?
- Serving as a mentor on an undergraduate research or creative project can count towards tenure and promotion decisions. This can vary by department, so be sure to check with your by-laws or ask your department chair for advice.
- Undergraduates can contribute to your broader scholarly interests.
How to get students involved in research or creative projects.
- Academic advising sessions are a good time to suggest that students start to engage in hands-on activities that are relevant to their long term career or educational goals. An example is available through this link (CMB advising file) which has a sample 4 year plan for an undergraduate major, and on the back, suggestions of what else the students should be doing each year.
- Provide departmental or program descriptions of faculty scholarly interests. An example for the cross-disciplinary Institute for Biomolecular Sciences is available through this link (Research Description 2010 file). We send this resource to our students each semester, and it allows them to see what research options are available with different faculty members, along with a picture and contact information.
- Advise students to write for scholarships and grants to pursue their research or creative interests. This looks very good on their resume, and helps our students who need to work to pay for school make ends meet. Links to different grants and scholarships are found on the Funding your project page.
- We also have a Policy Research Network in which we solicit requests for policy reports from local and regional civic leaders. These are a good source of potential topics and possible collaborations.
Independent projects vs. collaborative projects.
- If students work on projects that are truly independent of their mentor, they may feel more ownership of the project, and more freedom to pursue their own interests. However, if they do not complete the project, the mentor may invest a substantial amount of time, without any formal product in the end. This is especially difficult for untenured assistant or associate professors.
- In collaborative projects, students work on a discrete portion of their faculty mentor’s project. In this way the student learns how to perform scholarship in their discipline on a smaller, manageable project with realistic and achievable goals. The faculty mentor has a greater likelihood of getting some publishable results from the investment they spent in training the student. Please click the faculty interests link for a look at the information we provide to students on faculty research interest's.
- One of the biggest challenges in one-on-one mentoring is finding the time for faculty and students to meet. Some suggestions to address this concern include:
- Have students work in teams, decreasing the number of meetings per week.
- Establish a single meeting time for all students, the students may gain from hearing feedback and discussions of other student’s projects.
- Pair up more experienced students with newer students to encourage peer-to-peer training.
- Have students work on a portion of your broader scholarly projects. While it will often take you more time to train a student to do something than it would to do it yourself, in the end you will be training a student how to be a scholar in your field, while hopefully obtaining a useful contribution to your own scholarship.