Monday, December 23, 2013

Encouraging undergraduate research

The American Physical Society has prepared a draft statement calling on all universities "to provide all physics and astronomy majors with significant research experiences". The statement is worth reading because of the claims and documentations about some of the benefits of such experiences. In particularly, such experiences can better prepare students for a broad range of career options. I agree.

However, I add some caveats. I think there are two dangers that one should not ignore.

First, departments need to be diligent that students are not just used as "cheap labour" for some faculty research. Earlier I posted about What makes a good undergraduate research project?, which attracted several particularly insightful comments.

Second, such undergraduate research experiences are not a substitute for an advanced undergraduate laboratory. APS News recently ran a passionate article, Is there a future for the Advanced Lab? by Jonathan Reichert. It is very tempting for university "bean counters" to propose saving money by replacing expensive advanced teaching labs with students working in research groups instead. Students need both experiences.

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