Research with Students

Engaging students in research is a core activity within the Student-Faculty Interaction NSSE benchmark because it provides an opportunity for academic mentorship and for strong one-on-one interaction between students and faculty around a challenging academic problem. Research courses provide students with an opportunity to experience research before they make a decision about graduate school, and for faculty to develop students’ interests in the field.

Supervision of undergraduate research is an opportunity for faculty to cultivate students’ aspirations beyond graduation and attract support for projects, and for students to be introduced to intensive projects in preparation for graduate research. By participating in research projects, students gain a stronger commitment to the subject matter and improved academic performance (Eagan, Sharkness, Hurtado, Mosqueda & Chang, 2011).


  • Capstone Courses or Projects, in which students have the opportunity to encapsulate and summarize ideas from a program or within a single course.
  • Research Opportunities (ROP), Independent Studies, or specialized courses that are designed around a research problem or pedagogical project.
  • Grant or funding proposals can be introduced as assignments within a writing intensive course. These are particularly strong opportunities to showcase disciplinary concerns and methods.
  • Recruit strong students from pre-requisite courses. Students may be unaware of potential opportunities that already exist.



  • Research projects are opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills as well as time-management and organization.
  • Project management is an important element. For some students it will be their first opportunity to conduct research and the necessities of a research plan will be unfamiliar.
  • Try to identify a research problem of mutual interest to instructor and student, to inspire progress on the student’s part, and your own interest in mentorship.
  • Research projects are most successful when mentorship is a central goal. However, since the time available for mentorship may be limited based on faculty workload, these may constrain the level of one-on-one interaction. Consider how much time can realistically be managed for each student: taking on too many students can diminish the advantages of supervising the project.
  • Supervision can be supplemented by assigning a graduate student to work closely with an undergraduate, and meeting together as a team when possible. The graduate student can also provide mentorship, and allows the undergraduate more frequent support.
  • Students benefit most from developing a clear research plan with their supervisor, which includes clear goals. (Howitt, Wilson, Wilson & Roberts, 2010; Zerzan, Hess, Schur, Phillips & Rigotti, 2009) Begin each project by setting timelines, built-in checkpoints, and regular meetings. If you are unable to meet with a student more than once per week, consider working with a graduate student to check-in on a weekly basis.
  • If publication or presentation of the work is a possibility, identify this early on for students and indicate what it will mean for their work, e.g. documentation, process, and collaboration. Publication offers a strong motivator for student success.
  • Investigate with your department what funding is available for undergraduate research, or grants that may be available. Look ahead for future years by incorporating undergraduate research into funding proposals. Some students are willing to be volunteer research in the summer months.
  • Remember your experience as an undergraduate, and the development involved in becoming a researcher. Be careful not to overestimate a student’s abilities, and work to tailor the research activities to the student’s background and abilities. You will quickly recognize exceptional students and assign them more responsibility.



  • Eagan Jr., M.K., Sharkness, J. Hurtado, S., Mosqueda, C.M., & Chang, M.J. (2011). Engaging Undergraduates in Science Research: Not Just About Faculty Willingness. Research in Higher Education, 52, 151–177.
  • Howitt, S., Wilson, A., Wilson, K., & Roberts, P. (2010).  Please remember we are not all brilliant’: undergraduates’ experiences of an elite, research-intensive degree at a research-intensive university. Higher Education Research & Development, 29, 405–420.
  • Zerzan, J.T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R.S., & Rigotti, N. (2009). Making the Most of Mentors: A Guide for Mentees. Academic Medicine, 84, 140-144.