‘Being part of a community of world-leading research staff is a critical facet of the student experience at Russell Group universities. Being part of a community of world-leading research staff is a critical facet of the student experience at Russell Group universities’. (Research-intensive learning briefing by Sarah Stevens, Head of Policy, Russell Group)
Are you working on a research project that could offer undergraduate students valuable work experience and enhance their understanding of research?
Are you interested in providing undergraduate students with opportunities to carry out authentic research?
These pages provide a framework and resources that could help you or your School design:
- research work-experience for your students;
- a credit bearing module;
- a QMUL model module.
The framework is based on a series of pilot projects with students and academics in 2016-2017.
What do we mean by research work-experience?
Unlike a final year project or dissertation, which is more ‘product-based,’ and the outcome is an assessed piece of work, research work-experience is ‘role-based’ as the outcomes may not emerge until some point in the future. Undergraduate research can be thought of as supporting and ‘encouraging, intellectual partnership between students and other researchers […] through which students apply knowledge gained […] to new questions and problems’ (Merkel, 2003). Students thus become producers and co-producers of knowledge (Healey et al., 2013) rather than passive recipients of research. The development of a research work-experience module is part of a wider aspiration to strengthen existing opportunities for undergraduate research throughout the University, and encourage and support all staff to participate in a culture which ‘thinks creatively about how to bring students into the scholarly community’ (Merkel, 2003).
How would a research work-experience module differ from a traditional final year project?
This module differs from a traditional final year dissertation in making the personal and professional development of the undergraduate researcher the focus of learning activities. This is taken together with their successful participation in the practices and processes that constitute research work. As our EECS collaborator in 2016-2017 put it: this research work experience is ‘role-based’: the students are acquiring self-awareness, skills and capabilities by taking a role alongside other participants in a research project, the outcomes and innovations from which may be some way off. The final year project or dissertation, on the other hand, is ‘product-based’: geared towards a crafted written outcome in which the students’ work is presented as having a finished coherence even where future research directions are signalled.
This module may be most beneficial for students in the 2nd year, preparing them to take on 3rd year research - and possibly giving them an advantage in being selected for, in some cases competitive, final year projects (as an SBCS colleague has pointed out). The continuity of staff-student collaboration and partnership in research - throughout 2nd and 3rd years - is something that some researchers may consider positive allowing teams to build up in expertise, even when involving undergraduate students.