Academic journal article College Student Journal

Does Early Participation in Undergraduate Research Benefit Social Science and Humanities Students?

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Does Early Participation in Undergraduate Research Benefit Social Science and Humanities Students?

Article excerpt

Despite recent interest in the impact of undergraduate research on student development, there has not been much work done on the relationship between participation in undergraduate research and the development of social science and humanities students. Using data from Truman State University, this paper found that students who participated in collaborative undergraduate research with faculty early on reported significant gains in the ability to (1) think analytically and logically; (2) put ideas together; (3) learn on their own. Further, these gains were greater than those reported by students who did not participate in collaborative research with a faculty member. Moreover, it was found that early participation in collaborative research was of particular benefit for first-generation college students.

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Despite the great interest in the impact of undergraduate research on student development in the literature on higher education, there has not been much work done on the relationship between participation in undergraduate research and the development of social science and humanities students. To be sure, there has been a considerable amount of literature on the relationship between the conduct of research and undergraduate success generally, but most of this work has focused on student participation in undergraduate research in the natural sciences. Indeed, very little work has been done on how early engagement in undergraduate research affects social science and humanities students. This oversight may be due to the nature of social science and humanities research, which does not often employ the experimental method (with the possible exception of psychology). A major advantage of the experimental method is that it is conducive to laboratory research, which is quite cost effective in employing undergraduate student researchers (and many of them). On the other hand, in political science, sociology, english, communication, etc, the use of the experimental method is far less common. What is more common is rather exhaustive and in depth field research of social, political and cultural phenomenon, phenomenon that do not always lend themselves easily to quantification.

Further, little work has been done that investigates the effects of early undergraduate research participation on the development of student skills. (1) Indeed most work on the impact of participating in undergraduate student research examines the effect of undergraduate research on student retention or graduate school placement (Koch and Johnson, 2000; Wubah, Gasparich, Schaefer, Brakke, McDonald and Downey, 2000; Spilich, 1997) rather than on the development of individual student skills. Thus, in this paper I empirically examine the relationship between early student participation in collaborative research projects with faculty and the development of social science and humanities students as independent learners. In particular, I test the proposition that students who participate in research as underclassmen are more likely to report individual improvements in analytical and learning skills than students who do not participate in collaborative research with faculty members.

Undergraduate Student Research and Student Development

Recently, many scholars in higher education have argued that participation in undergraduate research is of great benefit to students (Boenninger and Hakim, 1999; Spilich, 1997). The many benefits cited include students (1) gaining experience and learn about the research process by working on an unsolved, open-ended research problem; (2) increasing their disciplinary knowledge and their understanding of how that knowledge may be applied; (3) defining and refining their research and career interests; (4) learn about the world of academia and graduate school life; (5) are provided with a forum for collegial interaction with a faculty member (Alexander, Foertsch, Daffinrud and Tapia 2000; Nagda, Gregerman, Jonides, von Hippel, and Lerner 1998). …

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