University of Colorado at Boulder

Outcomes of Undergraduate Research Programs

Ethnography & Evaluation Research (E&ER) has significant expertise on the outcomes of apprentice-model undergraduate research experiences for students and their research advisors.

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The Four-College Study

E&ER conducted a large qualitative research study focusing on four liberal arts colleges with a long history of undergraduate research. Longitudinal and comparative, this study addressed fundamental questions about the benefits (and costs) of undergraduate engagement in faculty-mentored, authentic research undertaken outside of class. The study documented student and faculty perceptions of the benefits of undergraduate participation in research, examined the processes through which these benefits were achieved, and compared outcomes in the short and longer term between research participants and non-participants.

Findings from this and other studies provided the framework for the Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA) an online survey instrument for departments and programs to use to evaluate student outcomes from participation in research.

Laursen, S., Seymour, E., & Hunter, A.-B. (2012). Learning, teaching and scholarship: Fundamental tensions of undergraduate research. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 44(2), 30-37.

Thiry, H., Laursen, S. L., & Hunter, A.-B. (2011). What experiences help students become scientists? A comparative study of research and other sources of personal and professional gains for STEM undergraduates. Journal of Higher Education 82(4), 357-388. abstract

Laursen, S., Hunter, A.-B., Seymour, E., Thiry, H., & Melton, G. (2010). Undergraduate Research in the Sciences: Engaging Students in Real Science. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hunter, A.-B., Weston, T.J., Laursen, S.L., & Thiry, H. (2009). URSSA: Evaluating student gains from undergraduate research in science education. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 29(3): 15-19.

Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S. L., & Seymour, E. (2008). Benefits of participating in undergraduate research in science: Comparing student and faculty perceptions, Ch. 7 in Creating Effective Undergraduate Research Programs in Science: The Transformation from Student to Scientist, R. Taraban, R. L. Blanton, eds. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 135-171.

Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S.L., & Seymour, E. (2007). Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 91(1): 36-74. abstract

Laursen, S.L., Hunter, A.-B., Seymour, E. & DeAntoni, T. (2006.) Undergraduate research: Not just for scientists anymore. In J. J. Mintzes and W. Leonard (eds.), Handbook of College Science Teaching (pp. 55-66). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press. review

Seymour, E., Hunter, A.-B., Laursen, S.L., & DeAntoni, T. (2004). Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates: First findings from a three-year study. Science Education, 88: 493-534. abstract

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation's Research on Learning and Education program under grant DRL-0087677, and by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Other funders include the Spencer Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, and Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement, and the National Science Foundation under grant CHE-0548488, jointly supported by the Division of Chemistry, the Division of Undergraduate Education, the Biological Sciences Directorate and the Office of Multidisciplinary Affairs.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation. 

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Undergraduate Research in the Biosciences

E&ER is conducting an ongoing evaluation of three undergraduate research (UR) programs in the biosciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Biological Science Initiative administers two UR programs, UROP and BURST, and partners with the NIH/HHMI Scholars Program for Diversity in the Biosciences.

Both quantitative and qualitative data were gathered about students’ gains from their research experiences, the authenticity of their research work, and the quality of mentoring they received. Findings demonstrate students' intellectual and professional growth as they gain research experience.

Thiry, H., Weston, T. J., Laursen, S. L., & Hunter, A.-B. (2012). The benefits of multi-year research experiences: Differences in novice and experienced students’ reported gains from undergraduate research. CBE Life Sciences Education 11(Fall), 260-272. full article

Thiry, H. & Laursen, S.L. (2011). The role of student-advisor interactions in apprenticing undergraduate researchers into a scientific community of practice. Journal of Science Education and Technology, published online January 1, 2011. DOI 10.1007/s10956-010-9271-2. abstract

Thiry, H. & Laursen, S.L. (2009). Student outcomes from undergraduate research: An evaluation of three academic year and summer undergraduate research programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder, 2007-2008. (Report to the Biological Science Initiative and the NIH Scholars Program for Diversity in the Biosciences). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research. full report

Thiry, H. & Laursen, S.L. (2009). Evaluation of the undergraduate research programs of the Biological Science Initiative: Students' intellectual, personal, and professional outcomes from participation in research. (Report to the Biological Science Initiative). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research. full report

Coates, C., Thiry, H., Liston, C. & Laursen, S. (2005). Evaluation of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program in Biological Science at the University of Colorado and Comparative Analysis of Summer and Academic Year Programs, 2002-03 and 2003-04. (Report to the Biological Sciences Initiative) Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

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Cross-Program Assessment of NSF REU Programs in Biology

We have worked with leaders in the biology UR community to use URSSA as a common program assessment tool across funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) projects in biology. The dual goal is to inform REU program development and delivery and to provide essential data to the National Science Foundation about the national impact of REUs on student learning and achievement. Through this project we have learned much about how to adapt the survey instrument and its technology platform for this type of multi-program assessment. The most recent report represents over 800 Bio REU students and over 1100 students who participated in other UR programs. For more information about the project, visit the Bio REU web site.

Weston, T. (2013). BIO REU Third Year Report. (Report to BIO REU). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, ATLAS Assessment and Research Center. full report

Weston, T. (2012). BIO REU Second Year Report. (Report to BIO REU). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, ATLAS Assessment and Research Center. full report

Weston, T. (2011). BIO REU Interim Report. (Report to BIO REU). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, ATLAS Assessment and Research Center. full report

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation under award DBI-1052683. We thank Janet Branchaw, Julio Soto and the BIO REU Leadership Council. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

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