Exploring undergraduate research

Anne E. Egger
Stanford University
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Poster session photo
Sasha interviewing Valentina about her research Details
Students attend a poster session where undergraduates are presenting their research. They are required to talk to four students; they submit the questions they asked and the responses they received, as well as their personal reflections on the nature of research in the Earth sciences.

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I have used this activity in several courses, all at the introductory level. I have made it an extra-credit assignment in an introductory geology course that includes both majors and non-majors. It has also been a required assignment in a 1-unit course specifically geared towards introducing students to the kind of research that happens in Earth sciences - some of theses students are more advanced in their work, but still new to scientific research.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This is a completely stand-alone activity. No particular skills or concepts are necessary.

How the activity is situated in the course

The timing of the activity is dictated entirely by the timing of the poster session. The activity can happen at any point during the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

By the time students complete this activity, I expect them to understand that:
  • The Earth sciences are diverse.
  • You can get involved in research early, as early as your freshman year, without knowing much in advance.
  • Scientific research can involve field work, lab work, computer work or all of the above.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Asking good questions.

Description of the activity/assignment

In this homework assignment, students are required to attend a university-wide poster session, the Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Public Service. I give them a list of students who are presenting research they have done with faculty members in the School of Earth Sciences, and they are required to talk to at least four of those people. They must submit (via email or a course website) a description of their four conversations, along with their personal reflections on the nature of research in the Earth sciences.

I've found this to be a particularly effective means of getting students engaged in research because they are talking to their peers rather than to faculty or graduate students. Talking to peers about research lowers the perceived barriers to getting involved, especially for the freshmen and sophomores who think they may not have enough background to get involved.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Since the main goal of this activity is to expose students to the variety of research topics within the Earth sciences, and to get them interacting with their peers who are doing that research, the evaluation is simple: I read their submissions to make sure that they actually spoke to people rather than just read the abstracts.

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