August is the time of new beginnings as the rhythm of a new year begins. Every August brings new excitement in anticipation of the research projects in the Diverse Student Scholars pipeline. Fresh off a national conference Top Paper award, our Diverse Student Scholars team is poised to continue its work; this is research work that has become routine and was never a part of my ruminations in graduate school.
As I reflect our work ahead, I’m reminded that creating a pattern for undergraduate research engagement was not something that I considered as a doctoral student. The thought just never crossed my mind amid book readings, journal articles, and research. When I reflected on the impact that doctoral research taskforces had on my own development, I was compelled to re-think opportunities that I was providing students. We took advantage of the environment of transformative learning at UCO coupled with my desire to replace myself by giving students early exposure to scholarship.
A few quick suggestions that can help you create or re-invigorate your undergraduate research program are:
Start small and scale (or not) in the future – Diverse Student Scholars began with just one student in my first semester of teaching at UCO. While I have had as many as 8 students working on multiple projects, a typically size tends to be 4-5 for our out-of-class work
Ensure small wins – you’ll notice 100% of the students have had at least one co-authored presentation with many achieving co-authored conference presentations or publications. It is important to ensure at least one culminating outcome that provides a sense of accomplishment even with ongoing research
Meet once weekly – We thrive on weekly touchpoints in 15, 30, 45 minutes or an hour. I find this to be easier when scheduled first at the start of the semester with the student research teams; we sync our schedules and find time to advance our work.
Make it positive space with positive energy – I have protected the undergraduate research mentorship space from stress, anxiety, and hardcore deadlines. We work ahead to meet submissions due dates, and we begin early enough so that our plan embeds the flexibility that undergraduate students need. If it’s not fun for them AND for me, that particular research project or the research team members are no longer a good fit for Diverse Student Scholars, which means adjustments are needed.
Following the above strategies becomes as easy as putting one foot in front of the other each semester. It makes the work of undergraduate research manageable alongside the host of other faculty commitments. Eventually, the strategies help cultivate a rich tradition of undergraduate student research engagement.