Survey Reveals More than 12% of UCR Undergrads Participate in Faculty-Mentored Research

Report sets baseline to measure future improvements in undergraduate research opportunities

UCR Distinguished Professor of Genetics Susan Wessler works with students in the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory. Photo by Lonnie Duka

UCR Distinguished Professor of Genetics Susan Wessler works with students in the Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory. Photo by Lonnie Duka

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — More than one-in-eight University of California, Riverside undergraduate students participated in faculty-mentored research or creative activities during the 2011-12 academic year, according to a recent study conducted by the Office of Undergraduate Education (UE).

“More than 12% is a great number, given that many think that our research only involves graduate students and faculty,” said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Steven Brint, who co-authored the study with Veronique Rorive, the director of the UE Office of Undergraduate Research. “We’d like to see the total reach 20%. This study will set a baseline that will help us achieve that goal.”

In the academic year 2011-12, 2,344 undergraduate students participated in research under faculty mentorship, with 177 participating in more than one activity. The total accounts for 12.5% of the 18,689 undergraduate students enrolled during that year. The report covers students who participated in research through course credit, paid assistant positions, and sponsored programs. It does not cover students who volunteered.

Students examine a tree in the UCR Botanic Gardens. Photo by Lonnie Duka

Students examine a tree in the UCR Botanic Gardens. Photo by Lonnie Duka

“That’s because we do not yet have a method for counting volunteers,” Brint said. “We know this is an under-count. The actual proportion of students participating in faculty-mentored research may be as high as 15 or 16 percent.”

Seniors were most likely to conduct research, accounting for more than 60% of all participants. Participation by gender closely matched campus enrollment numbers, with women accounting for 52% and men 48% of researchers. The Bourns College of Engineering had the highest participation rate, with 21% of their total students participating in a research program, followed at 15% for the School of Business Administration, 13% for the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, and 11% for the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Both Rorive and Brint cited studies that have shown that participating in faculty-mentored undergraduate research isn’t just something that looks good on a resume or a graduate school application. Studies have shown that undergraduate students who participate in research do better academically than the average student.

“It helps to expand their experience,” Rorive said. “It helps students retain information and improve academic performance by building upon what they learn in the classroom. It helps them develop their own ideas, connect the dots and figure things out. Plus, it creates a support group for them.”

The survey is the first study of undergraduate research at UCR that has been based on institutional data and it is believed to be the first of its kind in the UC System. Campuses have previously used data from the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), to put together a snapshot of undergraduate research on campus, but that data may be misleading.

“UCUES does not define research explicitly enough,” Rorive said. “Some students might say that they participated in research because they had done a research paper in a class.”

“From our perspective another important limitation is that UCUES asks whether students have ever participated in research during their college years. That’s why their numbers are large,” Brint said. “Our intent is to understand how many are participating each year. We think that is a much more meaningful number for the campus as it develops undergraduate research opportunities year to year.”

“We are focusing on the requirement that the research has to be faculty mentored,” Rorive added. “We are a research university and that is one of the advantages that our students have – that they get to work with some of the most incredible experts in their fields.”

Rorive used data from a variety of sources, including the campus payroll system and campus-based sponsored research programs, including BCOE Undergraduate Research Opportunities, Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC-U), Mentoring Summer Research Internship Program (MSRIP), Medical Scholars Program, UC Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS), CNAS Dean’s Fellowship, Gluck Fellows Program, TRIO Scholars, California Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP UCR), University Honors Program, UE Chancellor Research Fellowship, and UE Quarterly Mini Grants. The Student Information System provided data on students enrolled for at least one quarter in independent study research courses such as the 19x series or Engineering 173.

“Coming into this project, we had no idea of what the numbers would be. Rorive said. “Now, for the first time we are really able to have a valid quantitative number of students who have participated in undergraduate research at UCR.”

Another benefit of the study is that UE now has a comprehensive list of all the faculty sponsored research opportunities on campus that they can disseminate to students.

Moving forward, Brint said that he is working to create a zero-credit course that students could enroll in that would allow Undergraduate Education to track students conducting volunteer research who might have “fallen between the cracks” in this most recent survey.

Many students from this year’s crop of undergraduate researchers will present their work at the seventh annual UCR Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium on April 29 and 30 in the Highlander Union Building. Students from all disciplines will present their work through a series of performances, readings, oral and poster presentations and exhibits. For more information, please visit http://ugr.ucr.edu/.

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