Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 1073–1100

Describing Changes in Undergraduate Students’ Preconceptions of Research Activities


DOI: 10.1007/s11165-011-9235-4

Cite this article as:
Cartrette, D.P. & Melroe-Lehrman, B.M. Res Sci Educ (2012) 42: 1073. doi:10.1007/s11165-011-9235-4


Research has shown that students bring naïve scientific conceptions to learning situations which are often incongruous with accepted scientific explanations. These preconceptions are frequently determined to be misconceptions; consequentially instructors spend time to remedy these beliefs and bring students' understanding of scientific concepts to acceptable levels. It is reasonable to assume that students also maintain preconceptions about the processes of authentic scientific research and its associated activities. This study describes the most commonly held preconceptions of authentic research activities among students with little or no previous research experience. Seventeen undergraduate science majors who participated in a ten week research program discussed, at various times during the program, their preconceptions of research and how these ideas changed as a result of direct participation in authentic research activities. The preconceptions included the belief that authentic research is a solitary activity which most closely resembles the type of activity associated with laboratory courses in the undergraduate curriculum. Participants' views showed slight maturation over the research program; they came to understand that authentic research is a detail-oriented activity which is rarely successfully completed alone. These findings and their implications for the teaching and research communities are discussed in the article.


Authentic scientific inquiry Conceptual change Epistemology Preconceptions Qualitative interviews Undergraduate research 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David P. Cartrette
    • 1
  • Bethany M. Melroe-Lehrman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistrySouth Dakota State UniversityBrookingsUSA