I’ve seen people talk past one another when discussing undergraduate research. This is usually because each person in the conversation has a radically different notion about what constitutes undergraduate research.
Organizations have defined undergraduate research, but most people aren’t familiar with such definitions. Or even they know a definition, doesn’t mean they agree with it. So people use “undergraduate research” as it suits them.
It helps to know what page other people are on, right?
I’m taking stock of the status of undergraduate research on my campus at the moment, and have seen that among colleges and departments, and even within departments, people will disagree about what constitutes undergraduate research. (I happen to like the simple definition used by CUR, though it’s vague enough that folks often try to stuff more under that umbrella than will fit.)
Here are some questions you might think about or ask your colleagues, whether or not whether some kinds of undergraduate research should “count” from an institutional perspective (for purposes of educational assessment, resource allocation, faculty merit, accreditation, whatnot).
Is it undergraduate research if the student is not directly involved in experimental design and/or analysis and/or writing?
Is it undergraduate research if the knowledge generation will not be relevant to academics outside your particular institution?
It is undergraduate research if there are no plans to publish findings in a peer-reviewed journal?
Is it undergraduate research if it is not intended to result in the generation of new knowledge?
Is it undergraduate research if there are integral components of the project that the student does not understand?
Is it undergraduate research if it is conducted by students to fulfill the requirements of a regular laboratory course?
Is it undergraduate research if it’s the rote collection of data in a long-term or large-scale project that will not result in any discovery until long after the student leaves?
Is it undergraduate research if it does not involve mentorship of individual students?
Is it undergraduate research if supervision/mentorship primarily comes from older undergraduates? What about from early graduate students?
What any one of us answers to these questions really doesn’t matter. What matters is how each of our answers anneals with our peers, admins, students, and funding agencies. And when answers differ, it might be helpful to find language that everybody can agree on.
Do you find that other people use the term “undergraduate research” differently than you do? If so, how? Are there facets of this issue that other folks should consider?