Doing Research at a PUI

Doing research at a primarily undergraduate institution is a challenge, but also an opportunity. Here are some helpful resources for new faculty.

Challenges and Opportunities

My 2015 Perspective in Analytical Methods on doing analytical chemistry research at a PUI

Getting Started as a New Faculty Member

Successfully navigating the early years of a faculty position,” a 2018 column in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, co-authored with Christopher Harrison (San Diego State) and Tom Wenzel (Bates College)

My slides from “Starting a Research Program at a PUI” talk at 2017 Spring ACS Meeting

Resources from the Council on Undergraduate Research

A video produced by Cottrell Scholars and funded by Research Corporation for Science Advancement on finding a faculty position at a research-intensive PUI

A few thoughts about designing projects for undergraduates:

  • Consider designing projects around comparisons of 2-4 things: cell types, techniques, molecules, etc. This is useful for a couple reasons. First, you can assign students to parallel projects. They experience¬† ownership because they have their specific chunk, but they can easily help each other because their projects are similar. Second, these projects are likely to lead to publication because you can always compare the two or three or four things. Even if none of them is ideal, there’s something to talk about.
  • Keep track of projects that might be “too small” for your grad/postdoc lab. If you have little nagging questions about what you are working on , those can be good projects take with you.
  • Especially early on, focus on “one hard thing” and keep the rest of the work as simple as possible. Consider all the skills you’ve needed to successfully do the experiments you did as a graduate student or postdoc, and then think, “OK, how much of this can an undergrad reasonably learn to do in a semester or two?” Try to come up with projects that use that shorter list of skills or break projects into pieces that use smaller skill sets.
  • In general, undergrads can only dedicate ~4 hours at a time during the semester, so if there are experiments¬† that take longer (including set up, lab notebook records, clean up), then you have to get creative. Can you start an experiment in the morning and have a student finish it in the afternoon? Will some experiments need to happen during the winter or summer breaks?
  • Have a range of projects for students who are only going to be with you for a semester or two versus students who will join your lab as first-years or sophomores and stick with it until they graduate. Keep in mind that most students reach a “break even” point – where their productivity offsets the time you spent training them – only after a semester or two of work.

Mentoring Undergraduate Research Students

Maintaining students’ productivity during busy semesters” by Michelle L. Kovarik, P. Ryan Steed, Christina L. Vizcarra, and Amanda L. Wolfe (Chem CUR Blog 4 Dec 2019)

“A guide to mentoring undergraduates in the lab” by Philip Lukeman (Nature Nanotechnology 2013)

“Nature’s guide for mentors” from 14 June 2007 issue

Research mentor training from the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN)

Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, 1997 Consensus Study Report from the National Academies Press

Web Guide to Research for Undergraduates (WebGURU), NSF and Dreyfus Foundation supported resource for undergraduate research students, hosted and maintained by Northeastern University

Assessing Undergraduate Research Students

Sample of a flexible grading format for undergraduate research for course credit (with thanks to Laurel Rodgers)

Sample student self-assessment for undergraduate research (with thanks to Lauren Burianek Crowe)

Funding Opportunities for Chem/STEM Faculty at PUIs

National Science Foundation Research at Undergraduate Institutions program (RUI)

National Institutes of Health AREA/R15 program

American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund

Research Corporation for Science Advancement Cottrell Scholars Award

Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Awards program

Pittsburgh Conference Memorial National College Grants program

Edmund Optics EO Educational Award

Hamilton Syringe Grant program