December 17, 2014

Dr. G’s #AGU14 Spotlight – Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers

Posted by Laura Guertin

Definition of undergraduate research  —  “An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student with a faculty mentor that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.” — Council on Undergraduate Research

The AGU Fall Meeting has always been a welcoming environment for undergraduate students to present their research results.  These early, early career scientists have benefited from the recent additions of a poster session for only undergraduate student presenters on site (this Wednesday morning, ED31F Undergraduate Earth, Atmospheric, Ocean, and Space Science Research and Outreach Showcase) and through a virtual poster session, ED046-P Virtual Undergraduate Earth, Atmospheric, Ocean, and Space Science Research and Outreach Showcase.  With the growth in the numbers of students engaging in undergraduate research and seeing their work through to dissemination at conferences such as AGU, it is very exciting to see the number of sessions that have expanded to assist faculty with various approaches and strategies to mentoring student researchers.

IMG_0346On Monday morning, the Geoscience Division of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) ran a half-day workshop for graduate students, post-docs, and early career faculty that focused on some of the best practices for engaging students in undergraduate research.  The workshop addressed working with students in their first two years, embedding research experiences in courses, using research instrumentation and accessing data sets remotely, overseeing independent study projects and senior theses, and funding opportunities.  And speaking of working with freshmen and sophomores, right after the GeoCUR workshop, a lunchtime discussion continued with exploring models and approaches to Undergraduate Research With Students at Two-Year Colleges.  The energy and enthusiasm was contagious in the room, with such innovative examples being shared from getting 2YC students in the field to having them work in collaboration with government scientists and laboratories (for additional information, see the NAGT SAGE 2YC website).  It is exciting for me to see and hear that faculty are providing significant and varied inquiry-based learning opportunities for students across institutions and class year.

There were additional conference sessions that focused on best practices for engaging undergraduate students in research experiences, such as ED21D Undergraduate Reseach in Earth Science Classes: Engaging Students in the First Two Years and ED31A Challenges and Approaches to Running Effective Undergraduate Research Experiences in the Geosciences.  As many of us in attendance at the AGU meeting work with and/or interact with undergraduate students, we should all take a moment and spend some time thinking about and learning how we can improve our own mentoring practices for our student researchers.  We are already so proud of their accomplishments and are thrilled to see them stand by their posters or hear them speak, and we expected excellence of them along the way to get to this point of presenting in San Francisco.  We also owe it to our students to demonstrate excellence in our mentoring approaches.

Additional source for exploration

SERC On the Cutting Edge, Undergraduate Research as Teaching Practice: