Democratizing Undergraduate Research Mentoring

written by admin on June 30, 2020 in Diversity and Inclusion and Online education and Undergraduate Research with one Comment

by Eric E. Hall

The last few months have been incredibly trying as we try to navigate life with COVID-19 and more recently the resurgence of #BlackLivesMatter and advocating for antiracism after a series of senseless attacks and loss of lives for many Black Americans. As I have been reading and reflecting about issues of race and antiracism, the unknowns of the upcoming semester, and how best to support my current undergraduate research mentees this summer and beyond, I remembered a research article that I co-authored (Shanahan et al. 2017).

As part of a research seminar sponsored by Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning, I was in a group that was interested in best practices of undergraduate research mentoring (Shanahan et al. 2015; Walkington et al. 2018; also see In an effort to learn more about these practices, our research group interviewed 33 undergraduate research mentors from around the world who had won institutional or national awards because of their mentoring. In our interviews, one of the questions that we asked was: “In what ways do you think the practice of mentoring undergraduate research might change in the next five to ten years?”

All of the participants speculated that undergraduate research participation would continue to grow because of the numerous benefits for both the faculty and student. Additionally, many thought that access would become more equitable. From these interviews, four themes emerged:

  • Democratization of undergraduate research for underrepresented students
  • Democratization of undergraduate research for “average” students
  • Democratization of undergraduate research in the curriculum
  • Democratization of undergraduate research through the use of technology

In a time when we are increasingly thinking about equity, it seems that these results are even more important as we think not only about ways to increase the scale of undergraduate research through curriculum (Wuetherick, Willison, and Shanahan 2018), but also how to expand access to underrepresented populations and to serve them best (Shanahan 2018). One potential mechanism through which we can increase the scale through curriculum and expand access is through Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (Bangera and Brownell 2014; Auchincloss et al. 2014). My friend and colleague, Dr. Buffie Longmire-Avital, in a previous blog does a great job of sharing an example of how mentored CUREs can be used to expand access and interest in research in students. This seems like an even more important goal as we think about the future of higher education and to help prepare ALL of our students for future educational and professional opportunities.

The use of technology also seems like an even more important theme considering the recent shutdown of universities due to the COVID pandemic this past spring and potentially leading up to 2021. We are relying heavily on web and video conferencing platforms to check in and discuss research with our students, but it can also be used to bring in other colleagues from around the world to consult or be part of research projects. We are also relying heavily on technology to be able to work synchronously and asynchronously on word processing and other documents to share information and to give feedback on papers.

The collision of the COVID pandemic and the antiracism movement in the US has had a significant impact on our society, but it may also have implications related to mentoring of undergraduate research and bringing equity to access. My question for you, the reader, during these times, how are you thinking about or acting on these themes in our current higher education context? I look forward to hearing from you.


  • Auchincloss, Lisa Corwin, Sandra L. Laursen, Janet L. Branchaw, Kevin Eagan, Mark Graham, David I. Hanauer, Gwendolyn Lawrie, et al. 2014. “Assessment of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Meeting Report.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 13 (1): 29–40.
  • Bangera, Gita, and Sara E. Brownell. 2014. “Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 13 (4): 602–6.
  • Shanahan, Jenny Olin. 2018. “Mentoring Strategies That Support Underrepresented Students in Undergraduate Research.” In Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, edited by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, Paul C. Miller, and Jessie L. Moore, 43–76. Washington, D.C.: Council on Undergraduate Research.
  • Shanahan, Jenny Olin, Helen Walkington, Elizabeth Ackley, Eric E. Hall, and Kearsley A. Stewart. 2017. “Award-Winning Mentors See Democratization as the Future of Undergraduate Research.” CUR Quarterly 37 (4): 4–11.
  • Shanahan, Jenny Olin, Elizabeth Ackley-Holbrook, Eric Hall, Kearsley Stewart, and Helen Walkington. 2015. “Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 23 (5): 359–76.
  • Walkington, Helen, Eric Hall, Jenny Olin Shanahan, Elizabeth Ackley, and Kearsley Stewart. 2018. “Striving for Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring: The Challenges and Approaches to Ten Salient Practices.” In Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, edited by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, Paul C. Miller, and Jessie L. Moore, 105–30. Washington, D.C.: Council on Undergraduate Research.
  • Wuetherick, Brad, John Willison, and Jenny Olin Shanahan. 2018. “Mentored Undergraduate Research at Scale: Undergraduate Research in the Curriculum as Pedagogy.” In Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, edited by Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler, Paul C. Miller, and Jessie L. Moore, 181–202. Washington, D.C.: Council on Undergraduate Research.


Eric Hall, Professor of Exercise Science, was the 2018-2019 Senior Center for Engaged Learning Scholar and currently serves as a seminar leader for the 2020-2023 research seminar on (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences. Dr. Hall’s Senior CEL Scholar project focused on undergraduate research mentoring. For more information about the salient practices of undergraduate research please check out our website:


How to cite this post:

Hall, Eric. 2020, June 30. “Democratizing Undergraduate Research Mentoring.” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from