September Provisions: Teaching Undergraduate Research

The September Provisions session focused on the topic of Teaching Undergraduate Research.  The presenters included Rick Thompson, Dean of the School of Math & Sciences, David Morrow, Associate Professor of English, and Brian Jensen, Associate Professor, the Department of Physical and Biological Sciences.

Dr. Jensen began his presentation by explaining what he perceives to be the advantages of undergraduate research.  From his perspective, undergraduate independent research projects have two major advantages for students:

1) the opportunity to work with faculty 1-1, where the student can work with the faculty at the level that they are at. The key is that faculty needs to be aware of that level, where they can help raise the lower level up, as well as push the higher level forward;

2) the research is the closest thing to having a graduate school experience.

How Dr. Jensen finds undergraduate research differs from graduate research:

  • In graduate school, it is commonplace to design a program of study between student and faculty.  When it comes to the undergraduate level, Dr. Jensen chooses to not take on new students for research, and notes that he spends a lot of back-and-forth time with undergraduate students.
  • In graduate school, students inherently take more ownership.  At the undergraduate level, Jensen finds it helpful to provide students with material to read, and asks them to come back with questions and an idea of how they would like to approach the research.  He finds it tricky with the undergraduate students as far as finding the balance between when he needs to redirect (which he does more frequently in regards to technicalities) versus when he needs to let them go (which he typically gives them more time with when it comes to cognitive struggles).
  • At the undergraduate level, Dr. Jensen feels that one of the biggest differences is that the undergrad mainly just takes what they can from the literature, while the grad student is more so about making a contribution to the conversation.  Dr. Jensen finds this difference most challenging, and has had success in encouraging students to be fearless and accept the idea that they are transitioning from student to expert, with the goal of possibly presenting at conferences.
Drawing courtesy of Dr. Jensen's daughter.

Drawing courtesy of Dr. Jensen’s daughter.

Dr. Morrow presented on some of the struggles of undergraduate research within the English realm.  One of the biggest challenges that Dr. Morrow finds with undergraduate students is getting them to engage with the complexity of texts in regards to how they are enmeshed in the society they were produced in.  In other words, the struggle lies in historicizing the text, contemplating how it engages with the context it was written in.  This type of work requires a complex view of history and society, but according to Dr. Morrow, unfortunately, many undergraduate students view people in history in very absolute terms.  Not to mention, covering history requires extra time, and the reality of the situation is that students are not as prepared as professors would like them to be.  The task is to somehow get the students to historicize and take the time to do this extra research without snuffing out their interest.  Put another way, the challenge lies in figuring out how to cultivate and perpetuate the students’ interests.

Rick Thompson provided the faculty with an excellent overview of CUR.  You can find his presentation here: CUR Presentation.  You can also find sample publications put out by CUR, which Dr. Thompson brought to the session, on reserve in The College of Saint Rose’s Library.  They are available if you search the Library’s catalog under course reserves for Richard Thompson as the professor and “Provisions” as the course.  Additionally: the journal Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly is available from Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson) from 2008 to present.

Don’t forget to check out The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the College of Saint Rose here.

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