Students helping peers with research

Libraries' Peer Research Consultants provide friendly starting point for undergrads new to research

By Jon Jeffryes

Peer Research Consultants Mariah Berner and Akshina Banerjee.
Peer Research Consultants Mariah Berner and Akshina Banerjee.

Students starting their next research project have a powerful library resource to turn to — their fellow students.

Peer Research Consultants, a cadre of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota Libraries, are thoroughly trained in a wide variety of library tools, information literacy, and research basics. They provide a friendly and less formal starting point for students new to the research process.

Students talking to students about research

“We think it’s great for students to talk to students about the Libraries,” says Peer Research Consultants Lead Andrew Palahniuk. And there’s research to back it up. Similar campus peer programs have studied and published on the value found in situations where students teach students.

PRCs help students in a variety of ways, from brainstorming research questions to finding and evaluating journal articles. PRCs ask that students bring along their assignment details for the best level of service, but the conversations are relaxed and customized to each student. Consultations usually run about 30 minutes. PRCs follow up with an email filled with links to the resources, articles, and tools discussed.

The PRCs have all successfully completed WRIT 1301 or an equivalent course and have first-hand experience with library research and knowledge of what a successful research project requires.

One of the main goals of the PRC program is to provide information literacy skills through individual peer consultations. These skills, such as evaluating information for reliability or bias, are skills that students apply not just to their coursework, but to everyday interactions like wading through the recent proliferation of fake news shared via social media and returned in internet search results.

‘I can see the relief on their faces’

The Libraries’ Peer Research Consultants exhibit great enthusiasm for their work.

“I love that moment during the session when I can see the relief on their faces as they see their assignment come together,”  says Emily Young, a Biology, Society, and Environment major with a minor in Philosophy. “That’s when I know I’ve done my job.” 

Akshina Banerjee, double majoring in Economics and Linguistics, values “the exposure to myriad research ideas and the beautiful curiosity of my fellow students.”

Along with helping their peers, Peer Research Consultants have seen that their training enriches their own academic experiences. Mariah Berner, double majoring in Biology, Society, and Environment and Psychology, cites not just the benefits of learning more about library research and resources, but “the general skills of problem solving and critically analyzing” that she builds within herself “as well as being able to help others develop.”

In post-meeting evaluations, users speak not just about their success finding good articles, but also the boost a meeting can give to their self esteem.

“Overall, my peer research consultant boosted my confidence in exceeding in this paper,” one user commented after meeting with a PRC to narrow a research topic and start locating relevant sources.

A complement to traditional librarians

These meetings complement traditional librarian consultations. Students get started and learn the context of the research process that prepares them to make the most of future in-depth consultations with subject experts.

This year, the PRCs are available in more locations than ever before. Services expanded to the Bio-Medical Library last semester and PRC hours are now available at the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Wilson Library SMART Commons on the West Bank. Peer Research Consultants remain available at their original homes in Walter Library and the MCAE offices in Appleby Hall.

Palahniuk, who has worked with the program since 2010 said that PRCs generally report that their interactions with students are overwhelmingly positive.  

“Students leave satisfied that they’re better than when they arrived,” he said.

Students can choose to make an appointment or just drop in.

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