Undergraduate Research Models

Temple, Sibley, & Orr (2010) and Multhaup, et al. (2010) offer the following models of undergraduate research.  Many variations do exist within each model, especially among disciplines.

Traditional or Apprenticeship Model

The student and faculty mentor work one-on-one on a research project that is typically generated by the faculty member. Student contributions range from data collection to substantial intellectual contributions that lead to co-authorship.


  • progress of student can be closely monitored and the stages to independence carefully gauged
  • feedback can occur frequently
  • positive impact for mentor and mentee


  • time commitment is large – especially to one student – given the demands on faculty

Consultant Model

Student-initiated research that may or may not fall within the faculty’s area of expertise. Faculty supervises and guides the student’s research project.


  • student has full ownership of the project
  • student engages in project from conception to dissemination, experiencing every aspect of the research process
  • faculty may be introduced to new subject leading to continued learning, new lines of research, or new approaches to or understanding of their current research
  • faculty may be drawn into new collaborations that are typically interdisciplinary


  • student persistence and success are more diminished in this approach
  • student interest may be far removed from faculty research
  • takes faculty time away from ongoing research

Joint Creation Model

Student and faculty open a new line of inquiry based on mutual interest.


  • research is conducted in area that both student and faculty are interested in
  • develops skills useful in collaborative and interdisciplinary research
  • can often lead to new insights by drawing upon multiple fields


  • often develops slowly which doesn’t assist students and faculty with quickly enhancing their resume/CV
  • student persistence and resilience may diminish when engaging in a new research project

Research Teams

Students collaborate on a research project where they may split up the responsibilities/duties of a project or share them.


  • shares the workload and practices teamwork skills
  • efficient when long procedures are essential but cannot be performed by one individual
  • expands opportunities to many students


  • student preparedness and commitment can vary significantly
  • challenges associated with a mix of personalities
  • shared workload issues – making sure it is even and everyone is meeting responsibilities


  • Mentor must conceive a research question that can be answered in small projects attainable by undergraduate researchers in fairly short time periods.

Course Based

May be a course with research activities incorporated into the structure or a course that is completely focused on conducting research.  Varies significantly according to discipline.


  • many successful examples
  • many educators use upper-level specialized courses with labs of a dozen or more students as venues for conducting original research
  • expands opportunity for research


  • faculty workload concerns – supervising more students can often lead to more surprises, challenges, and failures

Summer Research

Intensive summer research experience that typically lasts ten weeks.


  • Students are dedicated full time to conducting research without many of the distractions that exist during the school year.


  • Faculty generally have nine month appointments which is prohibitive of this method.

Senior Theses

A capstone experience typically found in honors colleges and programs. Requires a large time commitment for mentors as they are responsible for guiding a senior thesis student through issues related to planning, time management, goal setting, and meeting deadlines.

More Strategies and Examples

As discussed earlier, undergraduate research and creative scholarship takes many forms outside of the models described above.  For a larger discussion on undergraduate research strategies in departments and disciplines including examples, see Jenkins, Healey, and Zetter’s (2004) Linking teaching and research in departments and disciplines.

To further explore the topic of undergraduate research and creative scholarship in undergraduate education please see the following suggested readings: Suggested Readings – Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship


  • Jenkins, A, Healey, M and Zetter, R (2007). Linking teaching and research in departments and disciplines. York: The Higher Education Academy.
  • Multhaup, K., Davoli, C., Wilson, S., Geghman, K., Giles, K., Martin, J., et al. (2010). Three Models for Undergraduate-Faculty Research: Reflections by a Professor and Her Former Students. CUR Quarterly, 31(1), 21-26.
  • Temple, L., Sibley, T. Q., & Orr, A. J. (2010). How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research

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