The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.3 What best practices can be recommended by those who actively participate in undergraduate research?

In a recent panel discussion held at the Southern Economic Association meetings (in November 2006), five faculty provided their perspectives on ‘Best Practices for Undergraduate Research’. Steven Greenlaw and KimMarie McGoldrick presented results of a preliminary survey designed to document the extent and form of undergraduate research initiatives by faculty in the United States. Their study (albeit preliminary and based on a small sample) suggests that undergraduate research is more likely to occur at institutions with small classes, to be promoted by faculty who have more experience in the classroom, and to be dominated by policy-oriented and empirical projects that occur in senior/capstone experience courses.

Participants in this research session provided advice (not unlike that suggested by the survey conducted by Lopatto, 2003) in determining the essential features of undergraduate research from both the faculty and student perspectives. A highly structured environment including expectations, assignments and due dates should provide the organisational structure for the project. Student research should be grounded in primary source literature and linked to students’ previous work. In the design of their project, students should have ownership and be encouraged to be creative. The research question that is developed should be narrowly focused and research should be conducted in a highly structured environment. Finally, students should be prepared to communicate their results in both oral and written formats.