, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 771-784
Date: 01 Jan 2011

The Role of Student-Advisor Interactions in Apprenticing Undergraduate Researchers into a Scientific Community of Practice

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Abstract

Among science educators, current interest in undergraduate research (UR) is influenced both by the traditional role of the research apprenticeship in scientists’ preparation and by concerns about replacing the current scientific workforce. Recent research has begun to demonstrate the range of personal, professional, and intellectual benefits for STEM students from participating in UR, yet the processes by which student-advisor interactions contribute to these benefits are little understood. We employ situated learning theory (Lave and Wenger, Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge in 1991) to examine the role of student-advisor interactions in apprenticing undergraduate researchers, particularly in terms of acculturating students to the norms, values, and professional practice of science. This qualitative study examines interviews with a diverse sample of 73 undergraduate research students from two research-extensive institutions. From these interviews, we articulate a continuum of practices that research mentors employed in three domains to support undergraduate scientists-in-training: professional socialization, intellectual support, and personal/emotional support. The needs of novice students differed from those of experienced students in each of these areas. Novice students needed clear expectations, guidelines, and orientation to their specific research project, while experienced students needed broader socialization in adopting the traits, habits, and temperament of scientific researchers. Underrepresented minority students, and to a lesser extent, women, gained confidence from their interactions with their research mentors and broadened their future career and educational possibilities. Undergraduate research at research-extensive universities exemplifies a cycle of scientific learning and practice where undergraduate researchers are mentored by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, who are themselves apprentices to faculty members. As such, research mentors of undergraduate students should be aware of the dual scientific and educational aspects of their advising role and its significance in shaping students’ identities and career trajectories.