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Mentoring the Undergraduate Researcher

Countless studies have demonstrated and documented the benefits to students who participate in undergraduate research. One of the most valuable benefits to students majoring in the STEM fields is preparation for post-baccalaureate education. There is a great deal of structure and detail that goes into building an undergraduate research program, and an important part of this structure is the undergraduate research mentor. Those who choose to mentor undergraduate researchers play a crucial role in the student's experience, which can determine whether the student continues on the STEM pathway or chooses to change course. For this reason, it is important that the mentor is well prepared to effectively guide her charge through the complex journey of academic research. Learning to be a good mentor is a process; like most things, the more it is practiced, the better the practitioner will become. However, there are established programs that have been developed that provide mentors with a practical framework within which to develop an effective method of mentoring. Presented below is a "checklist" that is based on some of elements of these programs. Because no two students are the same, the checklist is designed to inspire the mentor to assess each student individually and resist the urge to take a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring.

Checklist for Mentoring the Undergraduate Research Student
Laying the Foundation
• Are you (or a proxy) available to the student on a regular and consistent basis?
• Have you developed a rapport with the student beyond the subject of your research?
• Do you ask enough questions of the student to fully understand his/her perspective?
• Have you created an environment where the student can freely ask questions without fear or embarrassment?
• Do you ensure that communication with the student is clear and effective?
• Are you sure that your area of research is best for and of interest to the student?
• Have you developed a mentoring philosophy and does it inform your actions as a mentor?
• Do you come to the relationship with no judgment or preconceived ideas about the student?
• Are you aware of the possibility of unconscious assumptions or biases?
• Did the student participate in setting the goals and objectives they are expected to meet?
• Do you address problems or issues that arise quickly and fairly?
• Is the feedback provided to the student honest and constructive?
• Do you seek the advice and support of more experience mentors?
Research and Professional Development
• Is the research project reasonable in scope and feasible?
• Can the project generate data that the student can present?
• Does the project have built-in challenges designed to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills?
• Have you provided the student a clear and thorough orientation to the research environment, including safety, personnel and culture?
• Does the student have the opportunity to engage in scientific writing?
• Have you set clear, reasonable and high expectations for the student and informed him/her of what he/she should expect from you?
• Is there a forum where the student can present the results of his/her research?

Kuh, George D. 2008. “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter.” Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lopatto, David. 2010. “Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning.” Washington, D.C.: Council of Undergraduate Research and Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.

Elgren, Tim and Hensel, Nancy. 2006. “Undergraduate Research Experiences: Synergies between Scholarship and Teaching.” Peer Review, 8(1), 4-7.

Gant, Gary D., & Dillon, Michael J. and Malott, Richard W. (1980) A Behavioral System for Supervising Undergraduate Research. Teaching of Psychology Vol 7, No. 2: 89-92.

Pita, M, Ramirez, C. Joacin, N., Prentice, S. & Clarke, C. (Spring 2013). Five Effective Strategies for Mentoring Undergraduates: Students’ Perspectives. CUR Quarterly, 33(3), 11-15.

Office of Undergraduate Research. Mentoring Undergraduate: A Guide for Mentor. Retrieved from University of Miami.

Temple, Louise, Subley, Thomas Q. and Orr, Amy J. (2010). How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Council on Undergraduate Research.

Handelsman, J., Pfund, C., Miller Lauffer, S., and Maidl Pribbenow, C. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists. Madison, WI: Univversity of Wisconsin Press.

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