Initial Publication Date: June 28, 2006

Collaborating with Students

Faculty members who are successful at collaborating with student researchers help their students to find meaningful research questions appropriate to the students' experience, set clear expectations for their students, give their students appropriate guidance throughout their research projects, and regularly check in with their students to monitor progress, help solve problems, and celebrate successes (Kurdziel and Libarkin, 2002 ; NAS, NAE, IOM, 1997). Some also create teams of student researchers working on similar or related questions. Together, you and your students can accomplish more than you can by yourself, provided you do a good job of mentoring your student researchers; the resources below show you how.

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Case Studies

The links below take you to brief profiles of faculty members from a range of institutions who have been successful in collaborating with student researchers, in a variety of ways.
  • Rowan Lockwood, at the College of William and Mary, has a group of undergraduate student researchers who work independently on related problems, meeting together once a week to discuss their progress and their goals for the coming week. This page includes a short video clip of Rowan describing the purpose of these meetings and how she sets them up.
  • Greg Hancock, at the College of William and Mary, has students in his Geomorphology class conduct research projects, alone or in pairs. This serves a dual purpose of giving the students experience doing real research and having them do some preliminary exploration of research topics that interest Greg. By combining teaching and research, this allowed Greg to launch his research program when finding time for research was especially challenging -- when he had just started teaching.
  • Basil Tikoff, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has undergraduate, Masters, and Ph.D. student researchers. Discussions amongst students working individually on unrelated projects fosters an atmosphere of collaborative intellectual engagement and broad thinking about geological questions.
  • Jill Singer, at Buffalo State College, has mentored undergraduates on many different kinds of research projects, including local environmental studies and multidisciplinary collaborative projects. While her students often collect data as a group, they then work independently to analyze portions of that data.
  • Jeff Marshall, at Cal Poly Pomona, has taken undergraduate student researchers to field areas as disparate as Costa Rica and southern California. In California, his team-based class research assignment provided the foundation (and the motivation) for two independent research projects.
  • Jeffrey Ryan, at the University of South Florida, has undergraduate, Masters, and Ph.D. student researchers. Each "level" of student works on a different part of the geochemical analysis of samples, making them dependent on (and interested in) each other's work. He also instills a sense of teamwork in his undergraduate researchers, empowering them to work together to solve their own problems when they can.
  • Lori Bettison-Varga, at the College of Wooster, is currently the Associate Dean for Research and Grants, the Director of the Keck Geology Consortium, and President-elect of CUR, the Council on Undergraduate Research. She enjoys mentoring undergraduate student researchers, particularly helping them to focus their efforts and take ownership of their projects.
  • Jenni Evans, at The Pennsylvania State University, works with undergraduate, Masters, and Ph.D. students. She meets with them regularly, both individually and as a group. Presenting their work to each other on a regular basis helps her students to learn from each other while making steady progress in their own work.


Faculty guidelines for graduate students, from

  • Richelle Allen-King, University at Buffalo, SUNY. (Microsoft Word 49kB Sep15 10)
    Richelle's guidelines welcome students to her lab group and outline her expectations for them and for herself, and also alert them to her pet peeves.
  • Kristie Franz, Iowa State University. (Microsoft Word 39kB Jun26 09)
    Kristie's guidelines explain her philosophy, describe her expectations re: time management and progress, and also spell out what she will provide for copying, printing, and other day-to-day expenses.
  • Tracy Gregg, University at Buffalo, SUNY. (Microsoft Word 26kB Oct4 05)
    Tracy's guidelines spell out her expectations for her students re: her lab space and equipment, weekly meetings, time management, and communication.
  • Todd Halihan, Oklahoma State University. (Microsoft Word 36kB Nov10 05)
    Todd's guidelines take a blunt, no-holds-barred approach, alerting his students to his expectations and explaining why he expects so much of them. The tone of these written guidelines is balanced by Todd's twice-daily availability to his students.
  • Kathy Licht, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis. (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Oct16 18)
    Kathy's guidelines explain what her students can expect from her, and what she expects from them in return, particularly in relation to time and lab equipment.

Faculty guidelines for undergraduate students, from

  • Kristina Faul, Mill College. (Acrobat (PDF) 95kB Oct19 18)
    Kristina's guidelines describes guidelines for an environmental science directed research project with a field component for undergraduate students.
  • Barb Tewksbury, Hamilton College. (Acrobat (PDF) 202kB Oct9 18) (also available as a Word document (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 25kB Oct9 18))
    Barb's guidelines, for undergraduate students researchers, address collaborative relationships, managing a research project, lab and field issues, intellectual property, and ethics.
  • Sarah Carmichael, Appalachian State University. (Acrobat (PDF) 105kB Jun26 09)
    Sarah's guidelines address time management, her open door policy, the care and use of equipment, and the importance of keeping detailed field and lab notes. She also includes an undergraduate research contract that specifies her policies for intellectual property and authorship.
  • Lisa Gilbert, Williams College and Mystic Seaport. (Microsoft Word 29kB May15 09)
    Lisa's guidelines are written specifically for undergraduate researchers. They set a welcoming tone, explain some of the conventions of scientific research, and let her students know what she expects of them and what they can expect from her.
  • Guide to Research for Undergraduates
  • WebGURU is an extensive online guide to the research process, written for undergraduate students. It is both a "how-to" guide and a description of what to expect, in terms of working on a research team, intellectual property, securing funding, lab safety, communicating results, and much more.

Books and articles

Thoughts and tips from Early Career Workshop leaders

Tips from Early Career Workshop Alums

  • Early career faculty typically overestimate the abilities of students; be prepared to give them more guidance/time
  • Build a sense of community amongst your research students, e.g., frisbee with faculty, or informal (but time structured) meetings.
  • I clearly remember a comment from Richelle, which was to combine teaching and research when, and if, possible. I didn't realize the importance of this until recently, when I realized that my time is so valuable and in short supply. This past winter, I had the opportunity to teach a short, one month long winter term course with 8 undergrads. They learned the analytical methods that I use in my research, and generated a data set that I used in an NSF grant proposal in February. I was amazed that undergrads were actually able to do the analytical work (never underestimate the ability of an undergrad), and impressed at the quality of the data at the end of the day. It was a huge amount of work, but 50% of the students in the course wanted to continue the work, and are now engaged in research with me.