This section provides guidance on how physics departments and programs can meaningfully engage undergraduate students in research. This includes how to integrate research experiences throughout your program, support and enable faculty to successfully mentor undergraduate researchers, support students participating in research experiences on and off campus, ensure equitable access to these experiences, and promote and fund such experiences. Undergraduate research covers a range of potential experiences, including participation in the discovery of new knowledge and research-training experiences that emphasize the process and practices of science.
Engaging undergraduate students in meaningful research experiences has been identified as a high-impact practice, has been shown to provide a wide range of benefits to students, and can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retention, particularly for students from marginalized groups. Students gain direct experience of the practices, standards, and conventions of the discipline, as well as content knowledge, technical skills, communication skills, and the ability to analyze and propose solutions to complex, open-ended problems. Through the experience of participating in the physics community, students gain the opportunity to better understand what it means to be a physicist and decide whether to pursue research as a career.
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The evidence to support these practices comes from numerous sources, and there is an extensive peer-reviewed literature on the benefits of undergraduate research in the sciences, as well as a much smaller literature that is physics-specific. While large-scale studies have found clear evidence that undergraduate research confers benefits, because these experiences vary so widely, it is more difficult to determine the causal mechanisms behind these benefits. The following is a small sample of the many studies on the benefits of undergraduate research.
- S. Laursen, A.-B. Hunter, E. Seymour, H. Thiry, and G. Melton, Undergraduate Research in the Sciences: Engaging Students in Real Science, Jossey-Bass (2010).
- G. D. Kuh, “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter,” American Association of Colleges and Universities (2008).
- M. J. Chang, J. Sharkness, S. Hurtuado, and C. B. Newman, “What matters in college for retaining aspiring scientists and engineers from underrepresented racial groups,” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 51(5), 555–580 (2014).
- N. G. Holmes and C. E. Wieman, “Examining and contrasting the cognitive activities engaged in undergraduate research experiences and lab courses,” Physical Review Physics Education Research 12, 020103 (2016).
The practices in this section are discussed in several reports and guidebooks on undergraduate research, including:
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Undergraduate Research Experiences for STEM Students: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities,” The National Academies Press (2017).
- N. Hensel (editor), “Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research (COEUR),” Council on Undergraduate Research, 2012.
Training and education programs for research mentors and mentees:
- Physics Research Mentor Training Seminar: A guide co-produced by the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) and APS with a mentor-training curriculum for mentoring undergraduates in research environments. This manual provides a week-by-week curriculum that can be used to improve mentoring skills
- Entering Mentoring: a program produced by CIMER that provides training modules, curricula, and interactive sessions for training research mentors and mentees in STEM
- Culturally Aware Mentorship (CAM) Training: a program from the National Research Mentoring Network that supports mentors and mentees in addressing cultural diversity matters. The program includes a one-hour online module, a six-hour intensive training, and a skills survey for self-assessment.
- Mentor Tips and Training: guidance from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, including an online research mentor orientation program
- Mentor Training: The University of Minnesota offers a 90-to-120 minute online course preparing faculty to be research mentors
- Peer Mentoring in STEM: training from the Canvas Network
Assessment tools to evaluate the quality of student experiences using self-reported data:
- T. J. Weston and S. L. Laursen, “The Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA): Validation for Use in Program Evaluation,” CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14(3) (2015). The URSSA is a survey for undergraduate students to evaluate their own learning in research experiences.
- The Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE) and the Classroom Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) survey were created to study the effects of undergraduate research experiences and “research-like” experiences, respectively.
Numerous physics and astronomy professional organizations have made statements in support of undergraduate research experiences:
- American Physical Society Undergraduate Research Statement (2014).
- American Association of Physics Teachers Statement on Research Experiences for Undergraduates (2009).
- American Astronomical Society Statement on Undergraduate Research Experiences (2019).
- Society of Physics Students Statement Regarding Undergraduate Research (2008).
- Council on Undergraduate Research Division of Physics and Astronomy Statement on Undergraduate Research (2009).