‘Think like a researcher’

New training series helps undergrads warm up to research

By Jon Jeffryes

Moving  from studying to creating research can be a difficult transition. Working with undergraduates new to college, librarians often hear questions like “How do I get started?”

As a result, the University of Minnesota Libraries recently partnered with the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program on a training series to teach undergraduate students how to begin to “Think Like A Researcher.”

Inspired by a conference presentation about a similar program at Virginia Tech, workshop series co-creator Kate Peterson decided to collaborate with a team of librarians and other campus partners to adapt the idea locally. The workshop series website explains that it intends “to help undergraduate students become comfortable with the research skills and tools needed to participate in a variety of exciting research and creative opportunities.”

Peterson also wants the series to “bring people from different colleges together” and spark interdisciplinary connections. The interdisciplinary nature inherent in the Libraries’ role on campus complements college-specific offerings and has the potential to spark unexpected connections among students.

‘It’s always finding that right balance’

Putting together an extra-curricular workshop series requires managing a lot of different pieces — strategic scheduling, identifying collaborators, promoting the workshops to students — including logistics work on top of determining the scope and content that will be covered.

“It’s always finding that right balance of covering enough things to make it worthwhile but at the same time not trying to take up too much of the students’ time” said series co-creator, Jody Kempf

She said that librarians drew on their extensive experience working with undergraduate researchers in identifying “what was most useful to a student who was potentially going to be looking for research opportunities.”

The workshop website lists the following areas covered in the series:

  • Benefits and Challenges of research; Finding faculty mentors
  • Finding Scholarly Literature; Data Management basics
  • Writing Proposals; Designing Posters; Applying for Funding

The sessions provide an introduction to topics that span the entire research process.

‘Helping students prepare for research is what we do all the time’

Kempf said the workshop is an example of librarians’ expertise.

“Our general knowledge and expertise in the [library] resources and using the resources to find information and helping students prepare for research is what we do all the time.”

These strengths were also identified by campus partner Vicky Munro, Coordinator of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Citing that the Libraries are “experts in so many areas,” she added that librarians have expertise with questions and solutions such as, “how do you go about finding research in your area, how do you go about presenting that research, and then making different avenues for presentation such as the UDC and then the undergraduate research journal.”

Student feedback was positive

Student feedback from the first offering was very positive. All respondents to post-series evaluation surveys indicated that they would recommend the series to a friend. And the series instructors said that student engagement was strong for all topics throughout the workshop series.

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