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Feeling Like a Grad Student: A Survey of Undergraduate Researchers’ Expectations and Experiences

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

General Topics in Graduate Education

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.599.1 - 23.599.18



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Paper Authors


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Recruiting at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she received her Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published nearly two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. As a volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, Luchini-Colbry facilitates interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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Korine Steinke Wawrzynski Michigan State University


Megan Shannahan Michigan State University

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Megan is the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Research at Michigan State University. She earned her Master of Education and Bachelor of Business Administration from Grand Valley State University.

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Feeling Like a Grad Student: A Survey of Undergraduate Researchers’ Expectations and ExperiencesAbstractWe report results from surveys of undergraduates participating in summer research experiencesat a large university in the Midwest. Two surveys were administered, one at the beginning of thesummer program and one at the conclusion of the 10-week experience. This paper examinesstudents’ expectations at the outset of the research program, and compares them to students’actual experience as undergraduate research assistants.Several hundred undergraduate participate in research experiences each summer at [the]University, mentored by faculty from many disciplines. Most of these students engage in full-time research during the summer, and [the] University provides a number of professional andpersonal development activities for undergraduate researchers. For example, at the end of Julymore than 220 undergraduates from 60 institutions presented their research with [University]faculty mentors at a campus-wide forum. The summer research programs also assist students indeveloping application materials for graduate schools, such as academic resumes and personalstatements.About 160 undergraduate researchers were targeted for this study; they participated in summerresearch programs in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) or SBE (Social,Behavioral, Economic Sciences). 37% of students responded to the pre-experience survey, and44% completed the post-experience survey. About half of the respondents reported that thissummer was their first undergraduate research experience, which allows us to compare theexpectations and experiences of novice and experienced undergraduate researchers.In the pre-experience survey, 71% of the students said that they chose to participate in thesummer research experience in order to help prepare themselves for graduate studies. The open-ended responses to the pre-experience survey mirror this finding, with many students articulatingthe desire to learn “what it feels like to be a graduate student.” The post-experience surveysuggests that participating in undergraduate research was a positive experience for the vastmajority of students and helped prepare them for success in graduate studies. For example, in thepost-experience survey 87% indicated they intended to pursue another mentored researchexperience; 62% reported that they were preparing to present their summer research; 73% hadtaken or planned to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam); and 67% expected to go directly tograduate or professional school after completing their undergraduate degrees.Surveying undergraduate researchers at the beginning and end of a 10-week summer programallows us to ask detailed questions about students’ expectations and compare them to their actualexperiences as undergraduate researchers. This survey data can be used to develop or refineundergraduate research programs in order to better prepare students for graduate school.

Luchini-Colbry, K., & Steinke Wawrzynski, K., & Shannahan, M. (2013, June), Feeling Like a Grad Student: A Survey of Undergraduate Researchers’ Expectations and Experiences Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19613

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