Guide To Undergraduate Research

Version 2022.1

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

People of color and others with marginalized ethnicities, women and others who experience misogyny, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and others who have traditionally been marginalized in society and in physics. According to the TEAM-UP Report, marginalized groups are “groups of people defined by a common social identity who lack adequate social power or resources to design, build, or perpetuate social structures or institutions that reflect the centrality … of their identities, proclivities, and points of view. … They need not be underrepresented or numerical minorities, but often are.” We use the term marginalized groups, rather than minorities, underrepresented groups, or other commonly used terms, because people in these groups are not always minorities or underrepresented, and in order to convey that underrepresentation is the result of marginalization rather than a statistical accident. Another common term is minoritized groups. While we use this general term for brevity and readability, it is important to recognize that the many different groups encompassed by this term face different challenges and have different needs that should be addressed individually whenever possible, to learn the terms that people ask to be called, and to recognize that these terms may change over time.

. 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.

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

Effective Practices

Effective Practices

  1. Promote research for undergraduate students in your program or department

  2. Design meaningful research experiences for undergraduate students

  3. Create an institutional infrastructure to support undergraduate research

Programmatic Assessments

Programmatic Assessments

Reports and guidebooks on undergraduate research

Finding undergraduate research programs

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


    American Physical Society. Website

    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.
  • 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

Statements in support of undergraduate research from physics and astronomy professional organizations

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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