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We choose to become faculty members at the University of Minnesota because of strong personal commitments to research or creative activity and to teaching. Many of us are highly motivated to mentor graduate and professional students, but why mentor undergraduate students?
Minnesota undergraduates are bright, inquisitive and academically highly capable. Our best undergraduates are equal to the best undergraduates at any university in the United States or the world. They come to Minnesota for a variety of reasons—including academic excellence, family tradition, convenience, personal relationships, in-state tuition, parental pressure, close to home.
Minnesota undergraduates generally are highly motivated and have a strong work ethic. Labor force participation in Minnesota and nearby states is high, in part because adolescents often work. Many Minnesota undergraduates have jobs unrelated to their academic interests in order to pay for college. Students tend to highly value jobs that both pay money and teach them something, so they are highly motivated to do well in a meaning research position on campus.
Undergraduate students are cheap, generally $9 to $12 per hour with no fringe benefits. Programs such as the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) let you "try out" an undergraduate researcher at no cost to your budget. Faculty members with limited research support can often accomplish more using undergraduate student researchers than with other available options.
Mentoring undergraduates is both productive and fun! These students can teach you all kinds of useful things that you may not know—how to text on your mobile phone; how to organize your Facebook page; how to download music for your iPod. More importantly, their questions and comments about your research or creative activity project may stimulate new and unexpected perspectives and ideas. A fresh view, unrehearsed by many years of study, may be just the breakthrough catalyst that your project needs.
Many University undergraduates are reluctant to approach faculty members about research because they are unsure of their own abilities, concerned about possible rejection and uncomfortable talking with older adults. Successful techniques that havebeen used by faculty members to find undergraduate researchers include: making announcements in classes that you or your colleagues teach, contacting your Director of Undergraduate Studies or departmental or college advising offices, informing your college Honors Program and sending an announcement to the undergraduate student organization in your major.
You are also invited to participate in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). UROP awards fund students to do research and creative activities with faculty members for at least an initial period. The UROP Office maintains a listing of research and creative activity opportunities for undergraduates. You are invited to contact Marvin Marshak or Vicky Munro or call 612-625-3853 for more information.
Faculty members with considerable mentoring experience generally agree that a deliberate approach to mentoring is most likely to achieve success. The following suggestions are adapted from a Stanford University website:
Initiate a conversation early in your working relationship in which you and your student agree upon expectations and working agreements:
How frequently will you meet face to face? Who, in addition to you, will directly work with the undergraduate student, for example, a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow. What blocks of time, hours of the day, or hours per week, consecutive weeks or quarters do you expect the student to work? How will the student be trained? Is the student expected to attend lab or research group meetings, and, if so, will she or he need to prepare something for them? Will the student work in the lab or research area, or is there work she or he may take home to complete? What kind of final product do you expect the student to produce?
You should inform the student that she or he needs to take an active, responsible role in initiating and organizing one-on-one communications with you, setting meeting agendas, prioritizing issues the student wants to discuss and taking a lead in discussions.
You should work with your student to set short- and long-term goals and deadlines for the different stages ofher or his project.
You should explicitly inform your student of your communication habits: when does email suffice, when must you meet face-to-face, and when—if ever—may she or he call you at home?
Consider asking your student to compile written summaries of meetings (agreements, assignments, work outlines), restating tasks and the division of labor.
If you assign your student readings in books or articles, you should request comments or responses when the student has finished major portions or the complete assignment.
Share your excitement regarding your research. Encourage your student to communicate her or his questions and ideas. Be open to new perspectives and insights that your student may have.
The deadline for UROP proposals for research and creative activities in Summer or Fall 2013 is February 25, 2013.