More data about what works are needed to sustain the growing popularity of having undergraduates take part in research. That’s the conclusion of a report released yesterday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which notes that the lack of understanding of what makes these experiences effective makes it difficult to know how to improve these programs.
“There just isn’t enough comparable data” to concretely evaluate and compare the different types of programs, says James Gentile, dean emeritus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. For example, he says, it’s not clear how the student experience of taking a course compares to being mentored one-on-one, or whether a research experience helps students learn how to interpret scientific data.
Research experiences have traditionally been seen as a way to prepare students for graduate school and a scientific career. But studies have shown that they can also help students acquire valuable soft skills such as communication. The experiences also foster a sense of belonging to the discipline and have been found to improve retention among minority students and women, groups historically underrepresented in science and engineering.