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Determine Project Needs

Initial Publication Date: July 30, 2010

Undergraduate research projects sometimes have special needs.


Space, Size, and Scheduling Needs

Will your students work collaboratively with you or each other during class? Do you need a computer or science laboratory? If students will be working in small groups, is there a minimum or maximum number of students necessary for you to achieve your learning objectives and effectively facilitate class? Meet in a space that suits the interactions you'll be having, and consider whether you need to set an enrollment minimum or maximum.

Will your project require that you travel with students? Do you anticipate wanting long blocks of time to work with a group on project design and implementation? If so, if you are offering an undergraduate research experience within a class, it may be best to schedule it to meet less frequently but for longer periods of time, like during a seminar period. Or, it may be best to schedule it in a January or May term if your institution has either.

Contact Needs

If your project has implications for your campus or community, introducing your students to the people and organizations who stand to be affected may help students understand your learning objectives as well as the impact of their research in the world. These interactions can promote personal and professional develoment as well, opening minds to career opportunities and extracurricular activities related to their academic interests.

If you want to include guest speakers and visits, develop a contact list. Consider including faculty from other disciplines! If your campus has an experiential learning center or career center, its staff may be able to help you make these contacts. Your alumni office may be helpful as well. And while not all undergraduate research projects are service learning projects, service learning experts do have many tips for making community contacts that can be helpful to faculty and students engaged in undergraduate research.

Reading and Data Needs

If your students will be reviewing background literature, will they locate it themselves or will it be identified for them in advance? If the latter, prepare a reading list. Will you and your students be working with data? Will the students collect it as part of the learning experience, and or will you obtain it in advance? If the former, anticipate budgeting time for this in the project. If the latter, get crackin'!

Project Approval

Does your project require any special approval? For instance, do you need approval from your institutional review board (IRB) for any human subjects research? Think about your timeline and learning objectives when determining when to seek this approval. For a one-semester course, it may be helpful to get IRB approval on your own and in advance of the course, something which will have implications for which parts of the research proces the students make decisions about and which you make decisions about. For an honors project or a summer research project, a student's experience may be enhanced if she works with you on securing this approval.

Funding Needs

Does your project require equipment you don't already have or require funds for any other purposes? If you are beginning or continuing an undergraduate research project and need support, read about undergraduate research organizations, programs, and opportunities.