Guiding New Researchers

Council on Undergraduate Research's Five Effective Mentoring Strategies

Student involvement in research and creative projects is an important part of their education.  It is also an important component of the university’s research enterprise.  Undergraduate researchers gain and contribute the most when they are well mentored.  While there are many books, chapters, and articles devoted to mentoring there are also some useful basics.  One of the most important is clarity for the student.  Issues such as what is my role, what is expected of me, how does my work fit into the broader research efforts, and who do I raise questions with and report to are critical for a student to know.  While it may seem straightforward to someone who has been working in a research group for some time, that may not be the case for a student who is new to the experience.  That is why raising these issues early and often as expectations and roles change for your student is beneficial.  It helps keep you and your student on the same page, strengthens the dialogue between you and your student, and most importantly increases the gain for the student and benefit to your scholarship.  Five effective mentoring strategies from the Council on Undergraduate Research are:

  • Make yourself available
  • Foster community
  • Be attentive
  • Be understanding
  • Encourage participation in the broader research community

The integration of these into your undergraduate supervision will vary depending on things like the size of your group, oversight and hierarchy of your team, ability of your student, and your own personal style of oversight.  Think back to your own experience as an undergraduate researcher – remember how uncertain you felt initially, afraid to ask questions and certain that everyone knew more.  Use that knowledge and experience to foster your mentee’s development.

Educating new researchers

Preparing your students to be good researchers is about education.  While it is a very different style of education than classroom teaching, thinking through what you want your students to learn and creating good learning opportunities makes the experience more beneficial to you and your students.  A classic framework for structuring an educational experience is the Community of Inquiry.

Community of Inquiry Framework

Intersection of Cognitive, Social, and Teaching presence in mentoring

Crafting an effective social, cognitive, and teaching presence for your student builds a good research environment.  The social presence is built through their time doing research or scholarly inquiry with others.  Undergraduates feel a special bond to their peers when they get involved in research.  Whether it is with other undergraduates, graduate students, or their mentor, students appreciate the community aspect of being involved in research.  The cognitive presence is also built through their hands-on research time and through the reading and reflection on their work.  A successful undergraduate research isn’t just there as a set of hands – they become intellectually engaged in their project and the associated questions.  The teaching presence is built through their meetings with you and other members of your research team involved in mentoring the student.  This is your chance to teach them how you approach research in your field, what the aim of their work is, how it fits into the broader scope of your efforts, and that research involves uncertainty and unexpected outcomes.  Help your students gain that excitement of discovery that comes through research.

Adapted from: https://coi.athabascau.ca/