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The Office of Undergraduate Research exists to assist UT students and faculty in engaging in undergraduate research and creative achievement in a variety of ways. Whether you’re new to research and looking for opportunities to get involved, or you’ve done research and are wanting to present or publish your work, we are here to support you and the university’s continued goal of being a top research institution.

We collaborate with faculty, staff, departments, and colleges across the university to identify research mentoring opportunities, connect you with resources and funding, and recognize those who help foster research and creative activity for UT undergraduates.

What is Undergraduate Research?

At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we use the Council on Undergraduate Research definition:

An inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.

Undergraduate Research is used to enrich the academic curriculum through enhanced critical thinking skills and greater understanding of chosen field, through independent study projects, undergraduate thesis work, and outside of the classroom under the guidance of a faculty member or other mentor.

The Council on Undergraduate Research recently published “Broadening Participation in Undergraduate Research: Fostering Excellence and Enhancing the Impact,” by Drs. Jeffrey M. Osborn and Kerry K. Karukstis. According to these authors, four common threads run through every undergraduate research activity on campus:

  1. Mentorship. A serious, collaborative interaction between the faculty mentor and student, in which the student is intellectually engaged in the scholarly problem or project
  2. Originality. The student makes a meaningful and authentic contribution to the scholarly problem or project, and the work must be entirely or partially novel
  3. Acceptability. Employing techniques and methodologies that are appropriate and recognized by the discipline with a problem or project that includes a reflective and synthetic component
  4. Dissemination. Includes a final tangible product for which both the process and results are peer-reviewed, juried, or judged in a manner consistent with disciplinary standards

What are the Benefits of Undergraduate Research?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has identified student participation in undergraduate research as one of ten “high-impact practices” highlighted in various reports from the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative. LEAP is a national initiative that champions the importance of a 21st-century liberal education—for individual students and for a nation dependent on economic creativity and democratic vitality. Benefits of undergraduate research and creative achievement include the following:

Advancing Cognitive and Intellectual Growth

These particularly rich benefits, in many cases demonstrated by metrics that can be measured, fall into two main categories:

  1. Gains in knowledge and skills
  2. Academic achievement and educational attainment

Fostering Professional Growth and Advancement

Related to career development, benefits include formulating career plans and acquiring the specific skills and competencies needed in various career fields (enhanced ability to work collaboratively with others in teams, stronger relationships with mentors and professionals, deeper integration into the culture and profession of the discipline, ability to make informed decisions about career interests, enhanced professional credentials, higher rates of acceptance and enrollment in graduate/professional schools, and directly securing employment).

Promoting Personal Growth

This benefits regards attitudes, values, aspirations, and beliefs (including stimulation of curiosity, enhanced ability to learn independently, enhanced development of personal initiative, increased confidence, enhanced ability to understand the philosophy of lifelong learning, greater recognition by peers, and enhanced opportunity to serve as an academic role model).

High-impact Learning Experiences

For underrepresented students, engagement in undergraduate research is positively correlated with improvement in grades, retention rates, persistence to graduation, and motivation to pursue and succeed in graduate school. For all, participation in undergraduate research with a faculty mentor is a high-impact learning experience, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.