Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research is a high-impact educational practice correlated with student success

By Robin Hailstorks, PhD

 Robin Hailstorks, PhDOn May 23, I attended a briefing at the National Press Club hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). The purpose of the briefing was to share findings from a new report published by CUR on benchmarks for excellence in undergraduate research and to encourage broad dissemination of the report, Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research (COEUR). The panelists for the briefing said the report would be helpful not only to faculty who have established research programs for their students, but also to faculty who want to initiate a research program for undergraduate students on their campuses. The panelists viewed this report as a guide or roadmap for supporting undergraduate research efforts on college campuses nationally.

Rowlett, Blockus, and Larson (2012) note that COEUR is a summary of best practices that support and sustain effective undergraduate research programs. In their lead article, they outline 12 characteristics of highly effective undergraduate research programs and state that many of the characteristics overlap and should be viewed in an integrated manner. The 12 characteristics outlined in this article include campus mission and culture, administrative support, research infrastructure, professional development opportunities, recognition, external funding, dissemination, student-centered issues, curriculum, summer research programs, assessment activities and strategic planning. The authors provide detailed accounts of how institutions that highly value undergraduate research promote these 12 characteristics of excellence.

Undergraduate research is a high-impact educational practice that is correlated with student success. The panelists for this briefing cited research findings to support this statement and suggested that psychology faculty might want to use this high-impact educational practice to improve their teaching and student learning. In fact, one of the panelists, a psychologist, suggested that this might be one of the strategies to use to gain support for conducting undergraduate research on your campus. Regardless of the strategy used to conduct undergraduate research, the report provides numerous examples of how this educational practice is being used across various disciplines and in different institutional contexts, including community colleges.

We know there are already many programs and departments of psychology that offer numerous opportunities for undergraduate psychology majors to conduct research and to attend conferences, including undergraduate research conferences, to present their research findings. We also know that regional psychological associations and some of the APA divisions offer opportunities for students to present their research. Moreover, we are keenly aware of the continued support that Psi Chi and Psi Beta provide for undergraduate research. We are convinced that these sustained efforts are great examples of excellence in undergraduate research, and we want to highlight these efforts in a future Psychology Teacher Network (PTN) article.

The COEUR report is a reminder to disciplinary societies that they have a huge role to play in supporting undergraduate research. Two articles in the report are from disciplinary societies that promote undergraduate research. APA has a long history of supporting undergraduate education in psychology. PCUE staff look forward to advancing undergraduate research efforts by collaborating with Disciplinary Societies and Educational Associations (DSEA) to share the exemplary work that’s being done by APA members.

If you have programs you would like for us to highlight in a future issue of PTN, please email me. We also would like to hear from you if you have ideas for funding undergraduate research we could share with our APA Teacher Affiliates. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes for a great summer!


Hensel, N. (Ed.). (2012). Characteristics of excellence in undergraduate research (COEUR). Washington, D.C.: Council on Undergraduate Research.

Rowlett, R.S., Blockus, L., & Larson, S. (2012). Characteristics of excellence in undergraduate research (COEUR). Characteristics of excellence in undergraduate research (COEUR) (pp. 2-19). Washington, D.C.: Council on Undergraduate Research.