Improving Higher Education through Undergraduate Research

Currently many undergraduate programs in the U.S. do not require much research from their students, and if they do it is usually during the student’s final year of school. Students otherwise have to find research internships in the summer, which often requires money and the ability to relocate. Not all students can afford to do this. Therefore, changes related to undergraduate research should happen during the academic year and should begin earlier than a student’s final year.

There are several benefits that research experience has for undergraduates. Undergraduate research is when many students first experience the scientific process. This includes reviewing others’ past research, gathering data, and then conducting tests to reach new conclusions. As David Lopatto notes in his 2010 article published in Peer Review (see reference), these tasks improve students’ self-confidence and critical thinking skills, and also force students to face the difficulties and setbacks that are often also part of the research process. Lopatto then argues that when students get research experience and then take later courses they are better able to think independently and are more active learners than students with no research experience. In addition to school performance, I believe that having research experience early as an undergraduate will help students decide if they want to enter a career in research or if they want to continue onto graduate school.

Universities should offer course credit for research-intensive courses because it is difficult for many students to balance a full academic schedule with the additional work required for a research internship. Courses can be designed to promote undergraduate research by requiring group work, literature reviews, and data analysis. In his article, Loretto also highlights the importance of letting students have some input on the research topics and process. This increases students’ engagement and motivation. Later in the undergraduate process, I think that in the universities could also offer credit for more independent research courses that give each student a research mentor (either a faculty member or a graduate student). In these ways increasing the use of undergraduate research will change higher education by giving students important skills that will better prepare them for later courses and for life after graduation.

Reference:

Lopatto, D. (2010). Undergraduate research as a high-impact student experience. Peer Review12(2), 27-30. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/undergraduate-research-high-impact-student-experience

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