What is Research?

Undergraduate Research (UR) defined —
An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student in collaboration with a mentor that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.

Such as...
  1. Original discovery or creation by faculty members at institutions with a focus on undergraduate programs
  2. Original discovery or creation by undergraduate students initiated by them and guided by faculty members
  3. Active membership of undergraduates on research teams led by faculty members and assistance in the original discovery or creation
  4. Activities where undergraduates repeat or review previous discoveries or creations without adding anything totally new
  5. Activities that complement classroom work in the library, laboratory, on stage, or in the field
  6. Active-learning engagement by undergraduates inside or outside the traditional classroom setting
  7. Senior theses or art projects and shows, presentations by students to other students or scholars in the field about work they have done
  8. Efforts by researcher-undergraduate student pairs or teams to answer or pose a question of interest to them and others

Its boundaries...

Activities that fit within the UR mold are in line with the practices in the discipline or, if interdisciplinary, are guided by defensible methodologies. They involve three fundamental elements- those elements that integrally constitute research- the discovery, delivery and dissemination of knowledge.
  1. Originality. The work is partially or totally new, enriching the field, in any number of possible ways: revisiting an old work but shedding new light on it, or attacking a completely new question.
  2. Mentorship. The work is a collaboration between the undergraduate and a faculty researcher in any number of possible arrangements or configurations. The student initiates the project; the student does the work through internship or fellowship program off-site; etc.
  3. Communication. The work is presented by the student to peers, professionals and/or researchers in the field in any number of ways: through a paper, a poster, a talk, an exhibit, etc.
Undergraduate research usually represents a specific type of activity that passes the above test. It is not discipline-specific. It is not terribly rigid. Since what constitutes research and research methodology varies from one discipline to another, the expression should be used inclusively as the triad undergraduate research/scholarship/creative activity.


The promise...

An effective undergraduate research experience promises: an excitement about inquiry and creation and an apprenticeship in how new knowledge and new works are generated.
Students engaged in UR activities are excited about learning and discovery/creation. They learn through this experience what they cannot otherwise learn through their coursework about the discipline, especially about its role and its context. They sharpen their problem-solving and communication skills. They also develop lasting intellectual habits and strong work ethics.

Faculty members who are active in research and supervise student research are generally entrepreneurial. They attract external funds. Their teaching material is interesting and current. Most importantly, they are effective role models for their students.

A UR-oriented curriculum is well in touch with the demands and practices of the discipline. It is rich in creativity of content and teaching methodology. It has coherence and variety. It is designed to bring faculty and students together from across departments.

An institution seriously supportive of undergraduate research attracts good students and faculty and retains them. It enjoys a dynamic, scholarly environment and a good reputation. Its policies and infrastructure place student learning and faculty development first.
*The preceding was adapted from "How to develop and administer institutional undergraduate research programs" by Toufic M. Hakim. A publication of the Council on Undergraduate Research (2000).