Mentoring an undergraduate is very different from working with a graduate student, so gathered here is some information and advice on how to work with undergraduate researchers in a way beneficial to both the student and the faculty mentor. This information has been gathered from other universities’ undergraduate research offices as well as personal input from FSU faculty and students. This page speaks to mentoring undergraduates in general; for advice and requirements related to specific FSU undergraduate research programs, please see those programs’ pages.
For many CRE programs, faculty participation begins with listing a project. Programs like UROP and the Spring Undergraduate Research Assistantships in the Humanities offer faculty high-achieving undergraduates as research assistants to work on faculty research projects or creative endeavors, so the first step to a positive undergraduate research experience is listing a good project description that is both informative and appealing to potential undergraduate researchers; thus a project listed for an undergraduate research assistant should have a clearly identified role appropriate for an undergraduate that provides expectations of increasing difficulty and autonomy.
The Research Sponsor application for UROP and the Spring Humanities Assistantships Program requires the following information:
- Contact information
- A description of the research project, including the purpose and methodology of the research
- Student tasks and responsibilities. UROP encourages Research Sponsors to give students a variety of work with increasing responsibility and difficulty as the year progresses, whereas students participating in the Spring Humanities Assistantship Program may be more advanced and should determine the terms of their assistantship independently with their supervising professor.
- Hours research assistant is needed to work per week
- Number of assistants desired (Research Sponsors may request multiple assistants).
An effective project description will:
- Clearly describe the project and its aims
- Have a clearly identified role (or set of possible roles) for an undergraduate research assistant
- Situate the project within a disciplinary framework
- Be accessible to the audience; UROP projects are for first- and second-year students who may not yet be deep into their majors, whereas some other assistantships target Upper Division students already familiar with research.
- List the skills desired of the applicant
- Explain the benefits (i.e. translatable skills, opportunities for publication/coauthorship, etc.) to the student
- Demonstrate that the assistant’s role begins with an appropriate level of contribution and allows room to grow into more challenging and autonomous roles within the project.
You can see examples of previously listed faculty projects here. One of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement’s primary goals is to aid our faculty while providing research opportunities to our students. In any of our undergraduate research programs, your project should allow a student to contribute effectively to your research and also encourage the student to learn from the experience. Ideally, undergraduate researchers’ involvement and contributions will grow in level of responsibility and difficulty as they grow into the project, yielding young researchers that will be well-equipped to participate in not only your future research but also the university’s greater academic culture.
Once you have listed your own project for research assistance or decided to mentor an undergraduate in his or her own research or creative project, it is important to consider how you will select a student with whom to work. While the supervision of Honors Theses or DIS projects will likely emerge from a preexisting relationship with a student, this is not always the case with undergraduate research assistants. Faculty members seeking undergraduate research assistants in the past have often requested interviews, resumes, and writing samples from applicants. The Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement recommends an interview in all cases; the undergraduate researcher-faculty mentor relationship is an important one that can be tremendously beneficial to both parties, and an interview is one of the most effective tools for finding a good match.
Some possible tools for screening and selecting undergraduate researchers to mentor:
- Asking after students’ expressed career interests or grad school aspirations
- Giving a proofreading/copyediting test or testing students in a particular citation style
- Asking students to read and abstract an article
- Requiring a writing sample
- Asking about extracurricular or leadership roles
- Discussing what they know about your field or your personal research
- Looking outside your discipline or department for students with skills applicable to your research
- Ascertaining a student’s level of intellectual independence; you could discuss things like their intellectual curiosities, independent projects they’ve done in the past, what kind of contributions they see themselves making to your research, or asking them directly to self-evaluate
- Evaluating a student’s time availability and time management skills
- Soliciting colleague referrals: ask around your department or perhaps ask students for the names of professors with whom they’ve taken classes.
Your role as mentor will differ greatly depending on the capacity in which you are working with an undergraduate researcher. UROP Research Sponsors will be working with first- and second-year students and thus much of the mentoring role will include teaching as you bring students up to speed on how research is carried out in your discipline. Faculty working with assistants through the Spring Humanities Assistantship program will work with students of various experience, but most will likely be juniors and seniors and thus may begin their assistantships with more independence and perhaps advance more quickly. Faculty supervising students in Honors in the Major or working on their own projects through DIS will take on yet another set of mentoring roles as they guide students through their own research projects, and these mentor-mentee relationships will vary widely depending on faculty and students’ personal styles. Faculty teaching courses with Graduate Research Consultants will have an entirely different role developing and facilitating a research project for their undergraduates, and this role will integrate classroom teaching with collaborating with your GRC.
Some general tips for coordinating undergraduate research assistants:
- Meet with the selected student to determine the number of credits a student can earn (if any), draw up a work and meeting schedule, and benchmark anticipated accomplishments.
- Provide an orientation to introduce the student to other research group members and go over expected work habits.
- Establish from the outset what work habits are important to you and the project, which might include showing up when expected, documenting and following through on project work, and maintaining a neat work area.
- Identify any specific training the student will need, and how she or he will go about getting the training. Are there independent study materials, or will you or your designee do the training one-on-one? How quickly do you expect the student to master required skills, and how should she or he practice those skills?
- For UROP students, identify library workshops or other university resources partnered with UROP that your student(s) should take advantage of to be a more effective contributor to your project. Contact your student’s UROP Leader to see if skill building workshops are already scheduled or if they can schedule one for you.
- Students often feel very frustrated in a research setting, so be sure to recognize their accomplishments, large and small, as their work progresses. You may need to help them understand that in many cases frustration is an integral part of moving forward.
- Students should keep notes of what they do and record results regularly for their own records and in some cases so that another student or researcher may continue the project after the student leaves.
- Be sure the student is conducting research in an ethical manner.
Students who participate in undergraduate research often continue to do so and are also more likely to go to graduate or professional school. Helping guide your students to professional development opportunities within and outside the university not only makes them more high-impact contributors to your work but helps them develop academically, professionally, and personally, often leading them to continue to succeed in ways that gain recognition for themselves and their faculty mentors. Here are some resources available to undergraduate students that you may want to encourage your students to pursue:
- IDEA Grant: up to $4,000 for individuals and $6,000 for groups to complete a summer research project that the student designs and carries out
- Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP): $1,000 to support students' efforts broadly in college with a focus on undergraduate research and graduate school applications for minority students in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics)
- Bess H. Ward Honors Thesis Grant: up to $750 to support research for an Honors in the Major Thesis
- Various post-graduation or gap year scholarships (such as the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Fulbright, or Boren) for research, international study, and language study through the Office of National Fellowships.
- The annual Undergraduate Research Symposium
- The annual ACC Meeting of the Minds conference: FSU offers an all-expenses-paid travel grant for the small group of students each year selected to present their research at the ACC school hosting the conference that year
- The annual Florida Undergraduate Research Conference (FURC)
- Various conferences that welcome undergraduate presenters listed at the Council for Undergraduate Research
- Submission to FSU’s undergraduate research journal, the Owl
- Publication of Honors Theses in Diginole
- Various publications accepting submissions from undergraduates, listed at the Council for Undergraduate Research
- UROP Leaders: lead a one credit-hour colloquium introducing lower division students to research in your disciplinary area
- FIG Leaders: lead a one credit-hour colloquium for first-semester freshmen, introducing them to the university, undergraduate studies, and topics like research and campus involvement
- SCURC: serve as an undergraduate research ambassador or an editor for the Owl
- General Mentoring Resources
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in Biology and Environmental Sciences
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in Chemistry and Physics
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in Computer Sciences and Engineering
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in the Humanities
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in Mathematics
- Resources for Mentoring Undergraduates in Psychology