Research at a Liberal Arts College?

Research at a Liberal Arts CollegeMany people are surprised to learn that liberal arts colleges may provide more research opportunities for undergraduates than do larger research institutions.  At large universities, equipment and faculty time may be monopolized by graduate students.  At liberal arts colleges, faculty members are able to work with undergraduates one-on-one on authentic projects.

Undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity (URSC – pronounced “you risk”) refers to a range of activities carried out to discover new knowledge and create new work.  The terms “scholarship” and “creative activity” are more common in the arts and humanities and “research” in the sciences and social sciences.  Types of projects include:

  • Faculty-directed projects that allow students to observe and participate in a faculty member’s program in a supporting role;
  • Student-directed projects, including senior and honors projects, in which the faculty member provides mentorship as the student develops an original line of inquiry; and
  • Faculty-student collaborations, providing a blend of the two.

In all cases, URSC at liberal arts colleges puts the student first, providing direct student learning through hands-on engagement, expression of creativity, and intellectual ownership; enhancement of the intellectual climate through the development of the faculty mentor’s scholarly and creative agenda; and the opportunity for both faculty and students to make authentic, new contributions to a field of knowledge.

Additional Reading:

Guterman, Lila, “What Good is Undergraduate Research, Anyway?”  The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2007.

Elgren, Tim and Hensel, Nancy, “Undergraduate Research Experiences: Synergies between Scholarship and Teaching,” Peer Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 2006.