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Engaging Students in Research

Students’ experiences in higher education goes far beyond the curriculum in their programs. Beyond the classroom walls there are extra-curricular and social activities and numerous other opportunities to gain unique skills and experiences. One such opportunity is for students to become involved in research. This could be in the form of a paid research assistantship (RA), volunteering in a research lab, or by completing an independent project (out of general interest or as a thesis requirement). An additional opportunity to involve students in research could be by embedding it directly into the curriculum via course-based research. The types of research-related opportunities available to students will differ based on the type of institution (interested readers may refer to our previous article, “Writing Your First Grant,” (Cappon & Kennette, 2022) for tips to secure some funding). There may be more opportunities at a research-focused university than a community college or a school more focused on liberal arts. For example, at our institution, faculty are not required to engage in research, so there are fewer opportunities for students. Despite this, 53% of student respondents at our two-year college have indicated they would be interested in research opportunities and identified far more benefits than barriers. This is data from a survey we administered to a group of first semester students enrolled in a two-year social service work diploma program at a Canadian college in Ontario. We will share additional data from this survey throughout this article.

Benefits and barriers

It is clear that there are advantages for us as faculty to include students in research. For example, hiring a Research Assistant (RA) or having a student volunteer to help us with projects reduces our workload. But what are the advantages for students?

There are documented benefits for soft or transferable skills for students, including critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and organization (Harris et al., 2016; Landrum & Nelson, 2002; Valdez & Liu, 2020). And these soft skills, among others, are so important for graduates to have in order to be competitive on the job market (Schultz, 2008; Succi  & Canovi, 2020). In fact, many RA job postings do request some of these soft skills in order to be hired for the position.

Originally posted at Faculty Focus