Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods > Undergraduate Research > How To Engage Undergraduates in Research > Forms of Undergraduate Research Experiences

Forms of Undergraduate Research Experiences

There is no one way to do undergraduate reseach, but what all undergraduate research experiences have in common is that they give students firsthand experience in the process of creating knowledge. Your learning objectives should guide you in choosing the form and intensity of an undergraduate research experience.

Undergraduate Research in Greek
Photo courtesy of Randolph College.

You Can Choose the Form

Undergraduate research projects can take many forms. Here are some examples:

  • Class-based activities like naturalistic observation, surveys, quantitative writing assignments, and experiments can often be structured to walk students through the steps of the research process.
  • Class-based projects like term papers, service learning, and community-based and campus-based learning can be of a research nature.
  • Capstone experiences like senior research projects and honors research experiences can allow students to develop and explore a research question of their own.
  • Out-of-class student/faculty collaborative research like summer research experiences provide opportunities for students to work alongside a faculty member on his or her own ongoing research or on a project designed by both.


You Can Choose the Intensity

You can choose the intensity of an undergraduate research experience. Here are some things to consider. They are all related and can help you decide which of the above forms to use and in what way:

  • Breadth versus depth: You can create an experience in which you engage students lightly in all aspects of the research process, or you can offer an opportunity for students to engage in a more in-depth investigation of a research question. For the former, a class-based activity or project many be best. For the latter, maybe a capstone experience or out-of-class experience is better.
  • Elements to control: The elements controlled by the student and by the professor (question addressed, data collection methods, location of project, etc.) can differ by project. Some of these elements (like project location) you can make decisions about now. Others you can consider now and refine your thoughts on further in the planning process-when you structure the critical elements of your students' experiences.
  • Length of experience: An undergraduate research experience can be a short exercise completed during a single class period, or it can be a multi-week, semeter-long, year-long, or even longer project.
  • Level of student and course: Light exposure to undergraduate research through a class-based activity may be best in a lower-level course, whereas deeper experiences are better for higher-lever courses. Doing smaller, less intense and more guided projects in lower-level classes can help prepare students for these deeper experiences later on.
  • Works in progress, including your own: Some research projects obviously can't be started and finished in the course of a semester. That's not a reason to not try undergraduate research. Students can learn and contribute a lot by participating in a work-in-progress, even your own. For out-of-class student/faculty collaborative projects, sometimes students with less background can shadow faculty and students with more background, preparing themselves for deeper research experiences later on.
  • Level of collaboration and mentoring: Different projects require different levels of mentoring and collaboration, and you'll want to consider the levels you are willing and able to provide when deciding what form of undergraduate research is best for you and your students.


Let Your Learning Objectives Guide You

When deciding on the form and intensity of an undergraduate research experience, let your learning objectives guide you. Knowing what they are can make the task of planning and doing undergraduate research far less daunting.


Draw from Other Pedagogical Practices

When planning the nature of your undergraduate research experience, you may discover it's possible to draw from many other respected pedagogical practices you already use.

Learn More About Related Practices