By Eric Hall

Early one morning a few weeks ago, I was perusing LinkedIn because I was having trouble falling back to sleep after one of my children woke up early and needed consoling. While I was scrolling through my social media accounts, I saw a link on a friend’s page to a recent article in Nature from Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist. (Finkel, 2019) The main thesis of his article was that there has become an increasing emphasis on quantity of research and that we need to start refocusing on the quality of research. He believes that to increase quality of scholarship there needs to be more intentional effort placed on research practices and the importance of mentorship in this shift towards quality. This call immediately caught my attention and made me think about my previous work on mentorship.

In this article, what immediately jumped out at me was a statement made by Finkel, “we must abandon the assumption that a passive apprentice system works.” It is hard to believe that this has become the norm in science and why scientists believe that this model works well. Assuming that mentees will learn by being a bystander in the process (e.g., passive) versus being an active participant with intentional practices in place for mentoring demonstrates the importance of experiential learning and thinking about mentoring as a pedagogy. Previous research has shown the importance of apprenticeship in undergraduate research for both the mentors and mentees with mentees learning “how to become a scientist” or a scholar through these interactions (Hunter, Laursen, & Seymour, 2007; Vandermaas-Peeler, Nelson; Ferretti, & Finn, 2011).

FEBRUARY 24, 2011 – Eric Hall, professor of exercise science, works with Elon University students Mark Sundman (plaid shirt), Drew Gardner (blue shirt) and Chris Fry (test subject) to measure cognitive functions in research used to study the effects of concussions.
(photo by Kim Walker, Elon University)

Within this same paragraph Finkel also talks about the importance of his mentor who, “would throw us into deep water to teach us to swim. But we were hardly left to drown.” Recently my friend and colleague Helen Walkington presented the paper “Salient practices of award-winning undergraduate research mentors – excellence, freedom and control” at the 2018 International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Conference. This paper discussed findings from a study in which we interviewed 32 faculty members who had recently won awards for their undergraduate research mentoring. These interviews focused on the practices that these mentors use with their students. To analyze these results, Walkington framed the findings based on the eight key elements of quality for high impact practices (e.g., undergraduate research; Kuh & O’Donnell, 2013), as well as, the salient practices of undergraduate research mentoring (Shanahan, Ackley-Holbrook, Hall, Stewart, & Walkington, 2015). The key finding of this study was that award winning mentors had a unique ability to move students into a liminal space, but also able to provide a personal safety net for their students. Similar to the work previously discussed by Hunter and Vandermaas-Peeler, this was found to be important for identity change and in this case moving from student to researcher. A couple easy examples where mentors can provide this safety net is to get students to present in lower stress environments (e.g., undergraduate research conferences, on-campus, regional meetings) before presenting at a national meeting. Also, when it comes to writing, making students work though comments provided in drafts and multiple revisions as opposed to making changes for them can develop some confidence that they can do it, but also replicate the review process that often happens.

The article by Finkel continues to highlight the importance of mentorship in the development of protégés, but more importantly how high quality mentorship can lead to high quality scholarship and that there are multiple existing resources – literature related to the salient practices, undergraduate research programs, centers for the advancement of teaching and learning, etc. – available to help with this.


  • Finkel, Alan. 2019. “To move research from quantity to quality, go beyond good intentions.” Nature, 566, 297.
  • Hunter, Anne-Barrie, Laursen, Sandra L., & Seymour, Elaine. 2007. “Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and professional development.” Science Education, 91(1), 36–74.
  • Kuh, George D., & O’Donnell, Ken. 2013. Ensuring quality and taking high-impact practices to scale. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
  • Shanahan, Jenny O., Ackley-Holbrook, Elizabeth, Hall, Eric, Stewart, Kearsley, & Walkington, Helen. 2015. “Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23(5), 359–376.
  • Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen, Nelson, Jackie A., Ferretti, Larissa, & Finn. Lauren. 2011. “Developing Expertise: An Apprenticeship Model of Mentoring Undergraduate Research across Cohorts.” PURM 1(1). Retrieved September 17, 2014, from

Eric Hall, Professor of Exercise Science, is the 2018-2019 Senior Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Hall’s Senior CEL Scholar project focuses 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. 2019, April 24. Improving Quality of Scholarship through Effective Mentorship. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from