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Why Use Undergraduate Research in Economics

Undergraduate research offers many benefits, and, in economics, can be linked directly to Hansen's proficiencies.

Undergraduate Research Has Wide-Ranging Benefits

Studies of undergraduate research experiences across the disciplines suggest that it promotes many types of learning. It teaches content, process, and practical skills through active involvement in the creation of knowledge. It promotes both the cognitive and affective development of students and enhances sense of self and of personal and professional goals. Undergraduate research can also benefit faculty, institutions, and the community. Regardless of the discipline, there are lots of reasons to consider undergraduate research–and not only for students bound for graduate school or research-oriented jobs.

Undergraduate Research Teaches Economics as a Way of Knowing

Siegfried et al (1991) identify economics as a way of knowing. Undergraduate research helps students learn how knowledge is constructed in a disicpline by offering them firsthand experience with the process. Undergraduate research in economics therefore teaches economics in its truest sense, as something far more than a set of facts and concepts.

Undergraduate Research Addresses Hansen's Proficiences in Rich and Meaningful Ways

In "The State of Economic Education," Salemi and Siegfried (1999) advocate both active learning and a Hansen's proficiencies approach to the major. These proficiencies are discipline-specific versions of Bloom's (1956) cognitive competencies. A Hansen's proficiencies approach to the major is one structured to promote student skills in the following areas:

  • Accessing existing knowledge
  • Displaying command of existing knowledge
  • Interpreting existing knowledge
  • Interpreting and manipulating economic data
  • Applying existing knowledge
  • Asking pertinent and penetrating questions
  • Creating new knowledge (List reproduced from Hansen, 2006.)

In a survey of undergraduate majors, Hansen (2001) found that the average student rates herself between basic and proficient on the low- and mid-level proficiencies and very low on the highest proficiencies, suggesting that students are falling short of both understanding and experiencing the research process (p. 234). Undergraduate research experiences are ways to achieve these higher-level proficiencies and develop more practice and comfort with the lower-level ones.