An important aspect of the undergraduate research experience (URE) is the participation of faculty, as they are responsible for most UREs (with the exception of apprenticeships in industry or other off-campus UREs). The faculty member will typically set the goals of the experience, design the overall experimental approach, gather relevant materials to introduce students to the questions to be addressed, organize the workflow, and serve as mentor. Although the hands-on training of students may be done by the faculty member, it may also be carried out under supervision of staff members, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, other undergraduates in the URE, or combinations of these. The type of support the faculty member receives—financial, administrative, and access to facilities—can vary dramatically, depending on the type of URE (see Chapter 2 for an overview of program types), on the type of institution (community college versus four-year college versus research university), and the traditions and resources of the particular institution.
This chapter examines the impact of UREs on faculty beyond their role as mentor (see Chapter 5 for a discussion of mentoring). It situates UREs within the faculty context by describing the teaching-research nexus (TRN), which highlights the tension between teaching responsibilities and research productivity. The chapter then provides a more nuanced discussion of the impacts of UREs on faculty with respect to tenure and promotion, productivity, and motivation. Building upon these impacts, the final section addresses the support systems and needs of faculty to ensure their involvement and success in UREs.
One of the primary complicating factors associated with understanding the impact on faculty of participation in UREs is the tension in the relationship between teaching activities and research activities. Although there is not consensus on the precise definition of the TRN (Jenkins, 2004; Wareham and Trowler, 2007), this concept attempts to describe the multiple links between teaching and research that can benefit student learning and outcomes.1 The typical conceptualization is to consider the relationship between teaching and research within an institution and the alignment between institutional priorities, mission, and expectation of faculty work. But a broader view of how to enhance teaching and learning could examine the relationship at multiple levels—institution, faculty, and student—to better understand how these factors interact and then how UREs might fit into this framework. The breakdown of the different factors includes:
- How the institution views the relationship between teaching and research (level of integration into the curriculum): for example, emphasizing the results from research versus emphasizing research processes and problems;
- The role of the student in the teaching-research relationship: students are treated as the audience versus students are treated as participants; and
- The role of the faculty member in the teaching-research relationship: teaching is teacher-focused versus teaching is student-focused.
A considerable amount of the extant TRN research literature has focused on how research enhances teaching (Prince et al., 2007). In practice, the faculty are impacted by curricular demands (i.e., whether the focus is purely on content versus emphasizing the research process) and the role of the student (i.e., whether students are treated as audience or participants). The campus climate impacts the relationship between teaching and research, which in turn shapes the choices faculty make in planning and implementing UREs. The TRN literature has primarily focused on two types of programs: “research-based” and “research-led,” although Healy (2005) has identified a few other approaches and the URE literature suggests a continuum rather than a strict dichotomy (Auchincloss et al., 2014). In a research-based program, the curriculum emphasizes students as participants, as well as placing emphasis on the research process and problems. Research-based programs would likely be considered a URE. Alternatively, in a research-led program, the curriculum is structured around
teaching subject content and students are treated as the audience. So there is more emphasis on content rather than the experience of research. For example, a research-led program is similar to a “cookbook” course that relies heavily on examples from the research literature and prespecified research methods to facilitate learning the content. With a focus on subject content, the research-led design is most closely associated with a traditional “information transmission” academic model. This type of teaching model is often seen as being in direct conflict with research productivity as it takes time away from engaging in research; however, some view the research-based model as a way for students to learn while contributing to the faculty member’s research productivity (Brew, 2013; Kim et al., 2003; Layzell, 1996; Presley and Engelbride, 1998; Verburgh et al., 2007). Another potential issue with a “research-based” class is the role of the faculty member as a mentor guiding the student’s learning, engagement in the field, and identity as a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) researcher. This mentoring function may conflict with the goal of having the student help maximize the faculty member’s research productivity. In a “research-led” class the faculty member’s research is not involved and this potential conflict is avoided.
In addition to curricular demands and faculty motivations, the variability across institutions and departments with respect to the TRN is also important (Elsen et al., 2009; Marsh and Hattie, 2002). To illustrate how the TRN might differ depending upon the type of university, consider the role of the faculty member at a typical community college and the role of a faculty member at a research-intensive university. The role that these two faculty members play may be very different with respect to their institution’s demands on teaching and research productivity, which influences their views on participating in UREs. At most community colleges, in addition to lack of resources (i.e., facilities and capital), heavy teaching expectations have been identified as a significant barrier for faculty interested in providing UREs (Hewlett, 2009; Langley, 2015; Perez, 2003), and research productivity (as it is traditionally defined) is not a significant priority. However, as the Community College Undergraduate Research Initiative highlights, there are many community colleges that are increasingly incorporating undergraduate research into the standard curriculum.2
A very different scenario may exist for the early career scientist at a research-intensive university, where actual and perceived conflicts between teaching responsibilities and research productivity can lead to some unique tensions associated with the URE (Brownell and Tanner, 2012; Dolan and Johnson, 2010; Laursen et al., 2012). Where tensions are high, faculty may look toward engaging in courses that are more “research-based,” as they
may offer a better opportunity for contributions to the faculty member’s research program, compared to spending time teaching “research led” courses on potentially unrelated topics. When faculty identify themselves not as either a teacher or a researcher but as both and institutions adopt strategies that encourage a balance between teaching and research, opportunities exist that have the potential to benefit not only the student, but also the faculty member and the institution (Zubrick et al., 2001).
Faculty impacts must be considered within the context of the academic environment, including the type of institution, the faculty appointment and rank, the departmental culture, and the STEM discipline. There is currently a relative paucity of data with respect to the impact of UREs on faculty beyond the role as mentor. Research to improve understanding of how UREs affect faculty is needed because of the potential for unintended impacts to jeopardize the success of efforts to develop and sustain UREs (see Chapters 7 and 9 for a discussion of recommendations for research). Where studies have examined faculty perspectives, the impacts under study are often faculty perceptions of student outcomes and not necessarily direct effects on the individual faculty mentor (Cox and Andriot, 2009; Hunter et al., 2006; Kardash, 2000; Zydney et al., 2002) or the effects that faculty research in general has on teaching, undergraduate education, and institutional metrics (Grunig, 1997; Prince et al., 2007).
The limited research literature on faculty has primarily considered the effects of UREs on promotion and tenure, productivity, and motivation. Moreover, from our review of the literature, the committee was unclear as to how much faculty use the existing literature in designing and implementing UREs. This stems from the committee members’ experiences of a disconnect between the accessibility of the research literature and how that translates to practice. Despite the lack of data across the multitude of UREs, one area that has garnered attention and is gaining some traction is understanding the challenges and benefits for faculty associated with teaching course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) (Brownell and Kloser, 2015; Dolan, 2016; Shortlidge et al., 2016). Thus, a portion of the research described throughout the following sections emphasizes CUREs.
Promotion and Tenure
One area of considerable interest is the impact of URE engagement on the promotion and tenure process. For large research universities, this has been a topic of considerable discussion since the release of the Boyer Commission Report, which called upon large research universities to take a criti-
cal look at how they educate undergraduate students (Boyer Commission on Education of Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998). The report specifically identified “research-based learning” as an approach that these universities should consider as an education standard. Institutional efforts to address this report faced the challenge of a promotion and tenure process that focuses heavily on faculty research productivity. Whereas the Boyer Commission Report encourages the integration of faculty research and undergraduate education, subsequent studies suggest that considerable challenges still exist with respect to providing incentives for faculty, including critically needed reforms of the typical tenure and promotion process (Anderson et al., 2011; Brownell and Tanner, 2012; Elgren and Hensel, 2006; Evans, 2010; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004; Hernandez-Jarvis et al., 2011; Laursen et al., 2012; Schultheis et al., 2011; Weiss et al., 2004).
Very little work has been done on the effect of undergraduate research on the tenure and promotion process (Evans, 2010; Hernandez-Jarvis et al., 2011). One possible reason for this is that a relatively small number of research institutions have made the move toward making engagement in undergraduate research a significant component of tenure and promotion decisions (Chapdelaine, 2012; Schultheis et al., 2011). There are some notable exceptions that exist at primarily undergraduate institutions, as well as some larger research universities. For example, on October 9, 2015, the Purdue University Board of Trustees adopted a modification to the tenure and promotion process to include components that are very specific to faculty engagement in student mentoring and undergraduate research.3
Although involving undergraduate students in faculty research is often mentioned in tenure and promotion policies and procedures (Chapdelaine, 2012), very few research institutions consider mentoring undergraduate researchers as a critical component of the process. Providing a URE for students either in the summer or during the academic year is often an unpaid “voluntary” activity. This treatment has led faculty to perceive their involvement in UREs as undervalued or even unrecognized (Cooley et al., 2008; Hu et al., 2008; Laursen et al., 2012). And it may be a source of tensions associated with working with undergraduate researchers (Dolan and Johnson, 2010; Laursen et al., 2012). Indeed, the lack of focus at the institutional level on URE engagement as a component of tenure and promotion may suggest that engagement in UREs leads to a negative impact on the faculty involved in them (Buddie and Collins, 2011; Mervis, 2001). However, the structure of the URE may influence faculty perceptions on
3 For additional information, see the press announcement at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2015/Q4/trustees-change-purdue-polytechnic-department-name-to-reflect-enhancements.html and more specific information about policies at http://www.purdue.edu/policies/academic-research-affairs/ib2.html [November 2016].
tenure and promotion. For example, in an analysis of CUREs, Shortlidge and colleagues (2016) found that 68 percent of the faculty respondents indicated that the CURE had a positive impact on tenure and promotion decisions at their institution (see below).
Another area of focus with respect to faculty impact is the effect that the URE has on faculty research productivity. However, the impact on faculty productivity may vary according to the structure of the research experience itself. When working with undergraduates on research is considered an educational activity distinct from the faculty member’s research program, the actual and perceived impact on research productivity may be negative (Dolan and Johnson, 2010; Engelbride and Presley, 1998; Harvey and Thompson, 2009; Layzell, 1996; Laursen et al., 2012; Prince et al., 2007).
In light of this potential for conflict, undergraduate research programs structured to integrate teaching and research may offer unique opportunities for faculty research programs to benefit from the effort (Brownell and Kloser 2015; Kloser et al., 2011; Lopatto et al., 2014; Shortlidge et al., 2016; Wayment and Dickson, 2008). CUREs are an example of this type of experience. In a study by Shortlidge and colleagues (2016), faculty members who had developed a CURE were invited to be interviewed to share their experiences. Thirty-one faculty members were interviewed, and several themes were identified. Results revealed that 61 percent of the faculty respondents reported that the CURE provided opportunities to publish not only the results obtained with the students, but also results obtained in educational research. Another 61 percent reported that the data collected by the students in the CURE offered direct benefits to the faculty research program. The benefits may be extended when the CURE is part of a national network because the data feeding into the faculty member’s research program are collected across multiple sites (Dolan, 2016; Lopatto et al., 2014). Moreover, 42 percent of the faculty respondents reported that student research projects opened up new directions in the faculty research program that would otherwise have gone unexplored (Shortlidge et al., 2016).
One of the key features of CUREs that are part of a national network is that they often provide support in the form of professional development, online resources, and peer mentors, all of which contribute to supporting the course and the faculty member. Research has shown that the lack of faculty time to develop the research project, training materials, etc., is the most significant barrier when it comes to engaging undergraduates in a research experience (Benvenuto, 2002; Brownell and Tanner, 2012; Desai et al., 2008; Dolan, 2016; Dolan and Johnson, 2010; Eagan et al., 2011; Laursen et al., 2012; Lopatto et al., 2014; Wood, 2003; Zydney et al., 2002).
A potential added benefit relates directly to the connection between teaching and research—the two primary competitors for faculty time. With an understanding that these two aspects of a faculty member’s professional identity are often perceived to be in direct conflict (Kim et al., 2003; Layzell, 1996; Presley and Engelbride, 1998; Verburgh et al., 2007), the CURE has the potential to strengthen the TRN and relieve the tensions associated with these conflicting interests.
As with other high-impact practices and educational reform efforts, the URE can be seen as a novel pedagogical approach that requires a significant investment of time to be effective. Studies focused on faculty change have shown that the time required for investing in change, the incentives to do so, and a lack of focused training are the three most cited barriers (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011; Henderson et al., 2010, 2011). Institutions interested in reforming their STEM educational practices to add or strengthen UREs must consider the many factors that motivate faculty. Research has shown that faculty interest in pedagogical change may not be well aligned with the incentive and reward structure for spurring change (Anderson et al., 2011; Brownell and Tanner, 2012; Gibbs and Coffey, 2004; Hativa, 1995; Weiss et al., 2004). Blackburn and Lawrence (1995) concluded that motivation toward pedagogical change involves an interaction of faculty interests, their expectations of success, and the rewards associated with the change. Whereas there are likely to be a large number of external factors that influence the interactions of these variables, the faculty member’s prior education experience, preparation and training, STEM discipline, stage of career, and type of faculty appointment are all critical elements that influence a faculty member’s decision to adopt a specific pedagogical reform (Austin, 2011).
In gaining a better understanding of faculty motivations, an important point is that faculty members often volunteer to be undergraduate research mentors (Linn et al., 2015). Faculty interest in volunteering includes achieving satisfaction, attracting good students, developing a professional network, and extending one’s contributions (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 1997). When an external reward structure is lacking, faculty may see investing their own limited resources as a potentially risky venture and therefore will turn their focus toward strong or “high-reward” students. Bangera and Brownell (2014) discussed what they call the “rising star hypothesis,” which posits that faculty members tend to prefer students who are predicted to do well and become stars. This preference is attributed to the limited incentive for faculty members to take risks by selecting more shy or modest students.
The creation of institutional awards has also been discussed as incentive or motivation for faculty members to become mentors (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 1997).
Unfortunately, there are relatively few studies that focus specifically on what motivates faculty members to include undergraduates in their research programs. Not surprisingly, faculty who work primarily with undergraduates as part of teaching undergraduate coursework are more likely to include undergraduates in their research than faculty who work primarily with graduate students and teach graduate-level courses (Einarson and Clarkberg, 2004).
Eagan and colleagues (2011) discussed faculty motivations to include undergraduates in research through the lens of social exchange theory. Although social exchange theory is most often associated with understanding the underlying psychological components of romantic relationships, the basic premise can be applied to understanding the mentor-mentee relationship. In social exchange theory, the participants in the relationship weigh the costs and benefits of the relationship as they exchange something of value (Emerson, 1981). In the case of the URE, the student receives the knowledge and skills offered by the mentor, while the faculty member receives a student contribution to the research program and the satisfaction and social benefits associated with working with student researchers. Eagan and colleagues (2011) found a higher probability of engaging undergraduates in a research program if faculty stated that they were motivated by a desire to improve student learning outcomes, had higher levels of interactions with undergraduates, were well-funded, and were valued by their colleagues. In addition, the study revealed that the type of institution was a statistically significant factor in determining the probability of a faculty member working with undergraduate researchers. Faculty who worked at liberal arts colleges, historically black colleges and universities, or at more selective institutions were much more likely to be engaging undergraduates in research when compared to their peers at other institution types.
It appears that opportunities for UREs may be smaller at institutions where research and teaching are perceived to compete for faculty time (a weak TRN). Future studies may help clarify whether there are multiple factors affecting this decreased opportunity. If a lack of an incentive and reward structure is considered a primary barrier to faculty engaging with undergraduates in their research programs, then it is critical to have a clear understanding of faculty motivations as they exist within multiple contexts. For example, historically black colleges and universities are known to have student-centered missions and may offer students an academic environment that is more supportive and collaborative than other institution types (Allen, 1992; Hurtado, 2003; Hurtado et al., 2009; Nelson Laird et al.,
2007). The unique character of this type of institution may help explain why faculty are more likely to include undergraduates in their research program when compared to their peers at institutions serving primarily white and Hispanic student populations.
Most studies of faculty needs have taken a deficit-model approach through an analysis of barriers and disincentives that exist with respect to faculty involvement in undergraduate research. In summary, the four areas of focus have been faculty time, faculty incentives, funding, and faculty training and development.
By far, the biggest barrier, and therefore the greatest need for faculty in mentoring undergraduate researchers is time (Benvenuto, 2002; Brown, 2001; Brownell and Tanner, 2012; Chapman, 2003; Coker and Davies, 2006; Cooley et al., 2008; Desai et al., 2008; Dolan and Johnson, 2010; Eagan et al., 2011; Einarson and Clarkberg, 2004; Hewlett, 2009; Hu et al., 2008; Jones and Davis, 2014; Karukstis, 2004; Langley, 2015; Laursen et al., 2012; Mateja and Otto, 2007; McKinney et al., 1998; Merkel, 2001; Perez, 2003; Spell et al., 2014; Wood, 2003; Zydney et al., 2002). Research has shown that uncommitted faculty time has become increasingly scarce, and finding time to focus on anything other than their core responsibilities has become increasingly more difficult (Eagan et al., 2011). Issues with faculty time allocation have come about as the result of an ever-expanding workload, which studies suggest has been increasing across all institutions (Milem et al., 2000; Schuster and Finkelstein, 2006; Townsend and Rosser, 2007).
Successful undergraduate research programs have incorporated models and solutions that address this critical need. Although often the solution is to incorporate release time or reassigned time, that solution has been found to be unsustainable at many institutions, including community colleges (Hewlett, 2009). Whereas there are some well-known time allocation strategies for faculty who are engaged in mentoring undergraduate researchers (Coker and Davies, 2006; Karukstis, 2004), what faculty often need are strategies that include the “blending” of their professional roles to allow for multitasking. Institutions can support faculty by supporting academic structures where teaching and research are integrated and where faculty involvement with undergraduates is seen as a service to the institutional mission (Downs and Young, 2012).
One strategy that institutions adopt to address issues of faculty time is to embed the research experience in the curriculum through the use of independent studies, credit-bearing summer research programs, academic year seminars, and CUREs (Free et al., 2015). Successful models for integrating
the research experience into the curriculum exist (Gates et al., 1999; Hakim, 2000; Kierniesky, 2005; Kortz and van der Hoeven Kraft, 2016; Lopatto et al., 2014; Merkel, 2001; Pukkila et al., 2007; Reinen et al., 2007; Rueckert, 2007; Russell et al., 2009; Temple et al., 2010; Weaver et al., 2006). In the case of the community college, where faculty are burdened with very high teaching loads, the embedded model most likely offers the most effective solution to issues with faculty time (Hewlett, 2009; Langley, 2015; Perez, 2003). As previously mentioned, the time saving benefits may be extended when the research experience is part of a national network of CUREs, which generally feature shared curriculum, reducing preparation time.
Embedding student research may involve significant pedagogical change to an existing course or development of a novel course. Successful models for integrating the experience often require faculty training and development, which may come at an additional cost with respect to faculty time allocation (Brownell and Tanner, 2012). CURE networks have the potential to provide much needed support in the form of training, “plug and play” curriculum and course materials, and mentoring from experienced peers. All of these features have the potential to significantly reduce the amount of upfront time required by faculty who are engaging undergraduates in their own CUREs (Lopatto et al., 2014).
Faculty members play a key role in UREs, from setting the disciplinary goals to designing the initial workflow. The literature on the impact on faculty from participating in UREs is limited; however, there is evidence showing faculty benefits in rewards such as satisfaction, enjoyment, and a sense of fulfilling an obligation to their students. For example, faculty might integrate their research into their teaching responsibilities through the use of CUREs.
Research suggests that the current reward structures for allocating time and training to provide opportunities for undergraduate research may not be supportive of faculty needs. Colleges and universities need to be mindful of the impact of a URE program on their faculty and need to consider how they can and should support such a program. UREs address a variety of educational challenges such as improving completion and retention in STEM programs, preparedness for graduate studies, and general science literacy. Although limitations of time, incentives, and training are perceived to be significant barriers to faculty engaging in pedagogical change, undergraduate research programs continue to grow and thrive.
The diversity of undergraduate research program structures—institution type, level of curriculum integration, faculty motivations, length of the URE, role of the student researcher, incentive and reward structure, and avail-
ability of professional development—makes it difficult to fully evaluate the impact on faculty. In order to develop a better understanding of the impacts of participation in providing UREs on faculty, studies are needed that clearly identify and take into account the various types of research programs and available support structures. This understanding is important because much can be learned by a well-designed study examining faculty situations before and after a significant change in campus goals, support structures, etc., related to UREs.
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