Undergraduate Research

Faculty Mentor Advice: Pre-2015

A Select Compilation of Faculty Mentor Advice from 2010-2014

  • Develop a written plan (student-advisor “contract”) in addition to the contract they complete for the program, including such details as when/where to meet, and contact (and back-up contact) information.
  • Make sure the student is both committed and prepared to engage in meaningful research.
  • Explore the possible practical implications and benefits of research for the local community.
  • Establish deadlines, timelines, and other internal structures (including mid-term and final report dates) as needed to keep the team on track. Consider asking student(s) to submit weekly progress reports.
  • Make sure that the students make every attempt to attend the required amount of Brown Bag lunch presentations early so they don’t have a conflict later and can’t attend the last one when it is required to meet the minimum.
  • Attend as many of the Brown Bag luncheon meetings as possible. Use the time to meet with the student before and/or after that meeting if possible. It saves additional trips for meetings. I was surprised that more mentors did not attend these meetings.
  • Take advantage of this opportunity: the undergraduate research fellowship is one of the most powerful tools for resisting the siren call of cynicism about the ability of Viterbo undergraduates and the general state of higher education.
  • Remember, as in the classroom, to allow, encourage and facilitate the student to find answers to their questions using their critical thinking skills. I believe one-on-one we often fall into answering questions rather than continuing to facilitate them finding solutions to their problems.
  • Ensure that the student is academically and personally prepared to take on the challenge of summer research. Although faculty has frequent contact with their student(s), they must be able to regulate their time to conduct their research in this timeframe.
  • Request that the student(s) get the survey plan or interview questions to you early and that they show connection to the review of the literature and serve to answer the research question(s).
  • Map out weekly activity/goals at the beginning of the project (maybe even before application submission), especially if there is an IRB involved.
  • Have a good handle on the difference in expectations between a part-time project and a full-time project. It can be a bit intimating for part-time students hear ing what the full-time students are doing for their projects.
  • Consider - especially those in the natural sciences who conduct research on campus - having multiple students at part-time status rather than one student at full-time status.
  • Let your student “do the driving.” Motivated students do well when they “own” their project.
  • Don’t hesitate to start early. My summer research student had a clear idea of what she wanted to do, and we met several times before the formal research period had started to develop a shared idea of what the project entailed and how it could be completed.
  • Encourage your student to think ahead. Ideally, the summer research project should lay the groundwork for future work. Thinking ahead to Seven Rivers is built into the program.
  • Encourage students to think about extending the research into a capstone project in the major and about presenting at undergraduate research conferences.
  • Encourage your student to think about multiple ways of presenting the research. Not all disciplines lend themselves to poster presentations . Would the project also lend itself to a written paper, and panel discussion, or a video documentary?
  • Budget your time carefully as the (summer research) program demands more time than one might anticipate. Conducting a research project in a condensed time frame is both time-consuming and labor-intensive. Managing students and ensuring that they have meaningful work to complete adds to the already demanding schedule.
  • Develop an overall timeline at the beginning for what is going to happen each week. This ensures that goals will be met. Best to do in collaboration with the student(s).
  • Remember that students are still learning about research. What you can accomplish in eight weeks may be very different than what they can accomplish. Stay within the student’s competencies (stretching somewhat) to ensure success. Otherwise students will become frustrated and lose motivation.
  • If working with more than one student, separate the tasks so each student knows exactly what is expected of him/her that week.
  • Develop a Moodle site or a Dropbox folder for the research and give students instructor access. We posted things like weekly minutes from meetings, working documents, articles, etc.
  • Post a weekly announcement on Moodle for the work that needs to be completed each week. Email the announcement to the students.
  • Hold weekly face-to-face meetings with students if possible and develop agendas for the meetings.
  • Maintain close contact with additional emails to help answer questions during the week.
  • Hold some meetings at a coffee shop or different location. Getting off campus changes the dynamic and mood of working together. Really makes it feel more collaborative.
  • Have students keep notes on weekly meetings, type the notes, and post on online sites.
  • Say “thank you” often to the students.
  • Start as early as you can, with either your research, the IRB process, ordering of materials (if appropriate), etc.
  • Design projects that can be done in a reasonable amount of time with room for failure and re-design.
  • Partnering with outside groups (i.e. UMESC) is well worth the initial extra work.  It makes for a meaningful experience for both the faculty and students involved.
  • When working with multiple research assistants on different projects, I found it helpful to hold weekly lab meetings.  This allows multiple perspectives on various issues and helps keep everyone informed of what is going on in the lab.
  • Plan ahead and be organized: there wasn't a lot of time between the end of the semester and the start of research, so the sooner you can begin planning and order supplies, the better.
  • Expect a lot but don't be surprised: I set high content goals for my students and we achieved only a fraction of what I had hoped.  I didn't realize or budge t for how many mistakes they would make, how slow they would be in assimilating new techniques, and how poor their troubleshooting skills would be.  That said, while the results were slow to come, the experience and learning outcomes were huge for my students.
  • Allow time at the beginning of the project for the students to research the research process.  For example, I planned for the students to spend one full week on that, concluding with their recommendations, their choice of methodology, and an explanation of that choice.
  • Work with students within your discipline/major, if possible.  The more the student knows coming in, the less training is required and the less time they need to spend at the beginning on remediation.
  • Expect that undergraduate students will need a significant amount of help in working through the parts of the research process that require independent thought (e.g. interpreting data, determining the "next step", and troubleshooting).  They can follow procedures and do repetitive tasks, but most of them don't have the training or experiences to be independent researchers.
  • Look at your coursework and think ahead so that any summer research project you agree to work with directly facilitates/benefits your own scholarly projects.
  • Have a discussion with at least one faculty member who has done undergraduate summer research projects with students before!  Talk with Kirsten if you need names of those who have done it before.