Paula Myatt

  • Does the undergraduate research experience still have an impact? A pilot study investigating student’s perceptions and listening to their stories.

    Paula Myatt and Kirsten Farrand, University of Queensland

    Research paper

    Themes: teaching methods, course and programme design, faculty development methods and/or strategies

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 10.10 - 11.10 in room G61

    This seminar explores the undergraduate research experiences of second year science students at an Australian research intensive university through evidence gathered from survey, interview and narrative techniques.  The pilot study uses a previously tested instrument adapted from the University of Colorado (Seymour et al, 2004) and forms part of a larger scale focus on undergraduate research activities across the university.

    It has been established that authentic undergraduate research experiences in science play an important role in providing context to student learning and providing a sense of what it means to be a 'scientist' (Boyer, 1998).  There has been, however, some concern over the validity of the claims made relating to the extent of the impact that research experiences have on undergraduate students.  Recent literature indicates that many authors are now concentrating on establishing credible instruments for assessing (Seymour etal 2004) and even measuring (Lopatto, 2004) the extent of the impact of research experiences.

    At The University of Queensland (UQ) there exists an array of programs and student-centred activities aimed at creating a strong link between undergraduates and the research culture which exists at UQ.  The diversity of opportunities for students to engage in research at different levels, and to different extents, is often driven by discipline-specific differences and also by the level of experience of the student and the teacher. This is a widely recognised model for diversity within research experiences (Healey, 2005).  However at UQ there has been little emphasis on the development of evaluation tools, or a focus on the need to provide evidence, to support the further development or expansion of undergraduate research experiences in science. Furthermore, there has been little growth in staff development activities to promote or expand the occurrence of quality research experiences for undergraduates.

    This pilot study focussed on the summer research experience of second year students in an undergraduate science course which involved independent research in a laboratory environment for 8-10 weeks.  The study investigated student perceptions of the benefits they gained from the research experience they undertook.  The study, which is still underway, will also investigate which benefits are still perceived by students almost a year after the experience, and if the experience influences student career plans.

    The study looked in detail at which experiences (positive and negative) occurred; at the frequency, similarities and differences of these experiences; looked at characteristics of the most ‘beneficial’ experiences; and investigated ‘student-identified benefits’ in a comparison to the Seymour etal study (2004) at University of Colorado at Boulder.

    In addition to the Seymour instrument and methodology, this study supplemented the investigation using narrative techniques to collect student stories.  Narrative techniques are open ended in a way that surveys and structured interviews are not (Rixon, 2008).  This combination of techniques produced rich data and provided a broad picture of student experiences. 

    This seminar will build strongly on the conference themes of course and programme design and teaching methods, as well as promoting discussion on the theme of faculty development.  In this seminar we will report on the data gathered in early 2009 and the first stage in our analysis, and lead discussion in three major areas:

    1. the role of undergraduate research experiences in shaping students
    2. the use of combinations of techniques for gathering data – survey, interview and narrative techniques
    3. the role for staff development initiatives that not only promote the value of undergraduate research experiences but also expand the diversity of design options available to provide research experiences in innovative ways.


    • Boyer Report (1998). S. S. Kenny - The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University: Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A blue print for America’s research universities.
    • Healey, M. (2005) Linking research and teaching exploring disciplinary spaces and the role of inquiry-based learning, in Barnett, R. (ed.) Reshaping the university: new relationships between research, scholarship and teaching, pp.30–42. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.
    • Lopatto, D. (2004) “Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE): First Findings.” Cell Biology Education 3: 270-277.
    • Rixon, A. (2008). Narrative Techniques Workshop. The University of Queensland, 17th March.
    • Seymour, E., Anne-Barrie Hunter, Sandra L. Laursen, & Tracee Deantoni (2004) “Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: first findings from a three-year study.” Science Education 88: 493-534.