Moving Your Research to a Primarily Undergraduate Institution (PUI)

The information below is based on a session at the 2007 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences Workshop, led by Kurt Friehauf (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania), Paul Hoskin, (University of Calgary), and Kathy Surpless (Trinity University).

At almost every primarily undergraduate institution in the US, geoscience faculty members are expected to engage in research. However, research programs at PUIs are generally quite different than at research universities with graduate programs. Here's some advice on how to move your research program to a PUI and make it work effectively for both you and your students.

Jump down to Find out your institution's expectations * Finding funding * Integrate your research and teaching * Involve your students

Find out your institution's expectations

While you almost certainly need to do research, institutional expectations vary greatly.
  • Expectations range from having an ongoing project to having an externally-funded, cutting edge program with multiple publications each year.
  • Publication expectations also vary widely—some institutions have specific numerical requirements, others don't.

Finding funding

Your research program should be funded. (You don't, after all, want to be paying for it out of your own pocket.) But
  • Some institutions care where you get your funding, others don't; you need to ask the department to find out which kind they are.
  • Think broadly about where to go for funding; who has an interest in seeing the kind of work you want to do get done?
  • How much money do you need? Go for an appropriate "sized" grant.
  • NSF broader impacts & some specific programs want to see undergraduate involvement in research; you may have an advantage over research universities in applying for these programs.
  • Even a failed proposal shows that you are trying to move your research forward.
  • Think creatively about collaborations (especially for instrumentation)—going to meetings is key for meeting people with whom you might collaborate (and will also help you to not feel isolated by your distance from other scientists in your specialty).

Integrate your research and teaching

  • Incorporate research projects in courses to do preliminary data collection.
  • This is a big time saver for you.
  • It will improve both your teaching and your research.

Involve your students

Your research must involve your students. Getting your students involved in research can change their lives; that's probably more significant than the results of your research will ever be, and it's one of the most common reasons PUIs expect faculty to do research.
  • Local projects can be really key to managing this. Your colleagues can help you with local connections; so can regional geology societies or clubs. They are also one of your best sources of ideas for local problems that you might tackle.
  • Recruiting students: it's best to recruit the students you want to work with you, rather than taking whoever comes to you. You can make them apply for positions (and interview the best applicants, since they are asking for a job), or invite students you want to work with you. You may be able to get institutional support to pay them, or they may be able to get course credit for independent research. Either of these helps to motivate students, and may make it easier to "fire" them if it becomes necessary to do so.
  • Incorporate research projects in courses to do preliminary data collection. Not only does it save you some time and add a valuable component to your students' educations, it's a great way to find out which students you want to recruit.
  • Divide each project into manageable sized projects for undergraduates
    • This takes practice!
    • Undergraduates may only work on a project for a semester or a year.
    • Having teams of students work collectively on a data set can be a good strategy.
    • If you went to a PUI, ask your former professors how to do this. Ask other experienced faculty in your department about how to do it, too.
  • If you're going to publish, discuss authorship and expectations; do same for presenting at meetings. Note that your department might have standard expectations about this.
  • More generally, discuss your expectations with your students, and find out what they hope to get out of their research experience.