Academic journal article Education

Undergraduate Research Assistantship: A Comparison of Benefits and Costs from Faculty and Students' Perspectives

Academic journal article Education

Undergraduate Research Assistantship: A Comparison of Benefits and Costs from Faculty and Students' Perspectives

Article excerpt


Undergraduate involvement in research beyond a research methods course is a valuable experience, especially for students interested in graduate school (Kierniesky, 1984; Purdy et al., 1989; Gibson et al., 1996). Purdy et al (1989) found that many leading graduate programs have rated research experience as a "very important" admissions criterion. Unfortunately, only a small number of students have the opportunity to learn various field and laboratory research skills during their undergraduate study (Baird, 1990; Hartmann, 1990; Gibson, et al., 1996).

Undergraduate student participation in research is becoming increasingly popular even in relatively small liberal arts colleges that are teaching-focused (Stark, 1985). Although not all undergraduate majors can conduct original research, an attempt should be made to assure that the best available students are given every opportunity to experience the entire research process (Palladino et al., 1982). All students should have given the opportunity to gain at least some insight into and appreciation of the skills involved in field and laboratory research. The interested, qualified students should have experiencing various stages and activities associated with original research projects (Palladino et al., 1982).

However, at major research universities nationwide, a dilemma for faculty members in publish or perish environments is that undergraduate research projects are frequently time-consuming and seldom yield publishable results (Gibson et al., 1996). One possible solution to this dilemma is to establish multiple research teams of undergraduates work on faculty members' ongoing projects. A large, complex research project typically has several major phases. Each undergraduate student or a small group of students is responsible for a specific phase in order to successfully complete a much larger research project over time. Students will either receive a small financial compensation or will officially enroll in a research-based course such as independent study, independent research, research practicum, special topics, special problems, senior design project, and undergraduate problems.

The research assistantship is an important component of an undergraduate education regardless of academic discipline. A cost/benefit analysis has revealed that benefits have clearly outweighing the costs of research projects. This study compares the benefits and costs of undergraduate research assistantship from faculty and students' perspectives.

Benefits of Undergraduate Research Assistantship

The benefits of the undergraduate research assistantship as perceived by faculty and students overlap in some areas; however, other benefits are unique to either faculty or students (Tables 1-3). The overlapping benefits of research assistantship include research experience is important to both graduate school and research-based career, enhancing a variety of thinking skills, generating excitement and curiosity about the research process, preparing conference presentation in both oral and poster formats, as well as assisting in manuscript preparation, submission, and revision for publication (Tables 1-3).

Regardless of academic discipline, students, in some cases, have a joint authorship with faculty mentors when attending annual research conferences and when submitting manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals (Lei, 2008). Studying practical academic issues have provided additional motivation and research opportunities to students, thus transforming their confidence into performance and achievement in the form of journal and symposium articles (Lei, 2008). This is a win-win situation because students have gained publication and practical original research experience, while faculty mentors' projects have yielded publishable results and may have established a future research collaboration with these students.

From faculty mentors' perspectives, the benefits of research assistantship they receive include introducing a variety of field and laboratory research methods to students, enjoying training, supervising, and interacting with students, receiving a much-needed help from students due to time constraints and meeting with deadlines (Table 1). …

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