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Undergraduate Research or Research-Based Courses: Which Is Most Beneficial for Science Students?


Over the last 25 years, both research literature and practice-oriented reports have claimed the need for improving the quality of undergraduate science education through linking research and teaching. Two manners of doing this are reported: undergraduate research and research-based courses. Although there are studies reporting benefits of participating in these experiences, few synthesize their findings. In this article, we present a literature review aimed at synthesizing and comparing results of the impact of participating in these research experiences to establish which approach is most beneficial for students to develop as scientists. Twenty studies on student participation in undergraduate research and research-based courses were reviewed. Results show that both types of experiences have positive effects on students. These results have implications for both practice and research. Regarding practice, we propose ideas for designing and implementing experiences that combine both types of experiences. Concerning research, we identify some methodological limitations that should be addressed in further studies.

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  1. The authors grouped the different activities, curricular and extracurricular, in which students had participated, in three categories: research experience (e.g., summer research programs.), work experience (e.g., clinic programs, internship), and campus experiences (e.g., research-based courses). Regarding this review, the “research experiences” category refers to undergraduate research programs, while “campus experience” category refers to research-based courses.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge the constructive comments made by Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, University of Otago, which have led to an improved paper. This work was supported by the Chilean National Council for Science and Technology (CONICYT) through the research grant FONDECYT Regular 1130982. The first author is a CONICYT Ph.D. grantee (CONICYT-PCHA/Doctorado Nacional/2013-21130423).

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Correspondence to Ruby Olivares-Donoso.

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The authors declare they have received the following funding for supporting the work presented in this paper: research grant FONDECYT Regular 1130982 and the first author is a CONICYT Ph.D. grantee (CONICYT-PCHA/Doctorado Nacional/2013-21130423). Both grants are provided by the Chilean National Council for Science and Technology (CONICYT).

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Olivares-Donoso, R., González, C. Undergraduate Research or Research-Based Courses: Which Is Most Beneficial for Science Students?. Res Sci Educ 49, 91–107 (2019).

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  • Undergraduate research
  • Research-based courses
  • Science education
  • Teaching-research nexus
  • Higher education