Role of the faculty mentor in an undergraduate research experience
Journal of Geoscience Education
Mentoring, Study abroad, Undergraduate research experience
Research experience for undergraduate (REU) programs are designed to recruit students to science and engineering research careers by allowing the students to conduct research with faculty mentors. International research experiences can enhance the research experience by allowing the student to conduct research in a unique environment and also provide the student with a more global perspective. This paper describes the outcomes of an international REU program in which students quantify hydrological and biogeochemical fluxes in a tropical montane forest in central Costa Rica. Having the students at a central research station location and focusing their research on a common research problem is an important aspect of an international REU program, to avoid a feeling of isolation and to ensure that the students remain safe in their research and during their free time. However, this shared experience can highlight differences among the faculty mentors and make the students evaluate their individual experience more critically. To better understand the relationship between the REU student and their faculty mentor(s), we conducted pre- and post-trip focus groups to understand the students' experience in the REU and the manner in which the faculty mentor can affect that experience and the desire to continue in research. Results of the pre-trip focus group suggest that the undergraduate students are most concerned about their projects and give little to no thought about the faculty mentor with whom they will be completing their research. Post-trip results from 2011 and 2012 suggest that mentors had a much greater impact on the experience than expected. Many students said that their future research/graduate school plans were affected by their REU mentor relationship, and that while they might not have considered the importance of faculty mentors before the research experience, they now recognize the mentor as a crucial aspect of a research project. Using a classification system commonly used in management research, the mentoring styles were classified with management classification styles as autocratic, democratic, or laissez-faire. The overall results suggest that the student-to-mentor relationship created through these authentic experiences is one of the most important aspects of REU programs, and that the mentoring style not only determines the research productivity of the student, but also appears to influence the decision of that student to conduct research in the future and/or attend graduate school. The mentoring style also affects research productivity and allows students to identify the characteristics they perceive as important to success in a graduate program. While this paper focuses on a single REU program, the results provide baseline data to examine the role of the faculty mentor across other REU programs and in decisions about graduate research by both the student and the faculty. Mentoring styles and student expectations of their mentors should be taken into consideration when developing a research experience and pairing mentors with prospective students. © 2013 National Association of Geoscience Teachers.
Houser, Chris; Lemmons, K.; and Cahill, A.. (2013). Role of the faculty mentor in an undergraduate research experience. Journal of Geoscience Education, 61 (3), 297-305.