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Dr. Janet Morrison – Mentoring Undergraduates in Research

Mentoring Undergraduates in Research

I conduct all of my plant ecology research with undergraduate collaborators. I started doing so when I was a graduate student at Stony Brook, and I continued involving undergraduate interns while at the New York Botanical Garden. At The College of New Jersey, which is a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), we have no graduate students in biology, so all faculty research is done with undergraduates. Additionally, the lab in my ecology class at TCNJ consists mostly of semester-long, original research projects done by the students in small groups.

My long-time involvement with undergraduates has led to significant service activities advocating for what at TCNJ we call ”faculty-student collaboration”. I served as the founding Director of Faculty-Student Scholarly and Creative Collaborative Activity, and worked to build our Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE) into a college-wide program. I also was elected as a Councilor in the Undergraduate Research Program Directors (URPD) division of the national Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Additionally, I hold the first endowed chair at TCNJ: the Barbara Meyers Pelson’59 Chair in Faculty-Student Engagement. Recently, I  turned some of my scholarly attention to excellence in mentoring undergraduate research when I was selected for a three-year research seminar sponsored by Elon University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

With a grant from the National Science Foundation (DEB-0933977), I developed a program for mentoring underrepresented students in the biological sciences, called Gateway to Graduate School: Faculty-Student Collaboration in Environmental and Model Organism Biology

We have now grown that program into all departments in the School of Science at TCNJ, with internal funding. It is renamed Gateway to Research Careers in Science.

Presentations:

July 2016. Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research Conference, Elon University.

Berner, N., A. Johnson, J. Manske, D. Mahatmya, and J.A. Morrison. (authorship order is alphabetical). 2016. If you build it will they come? Motivators and barriers to undergraduate research.
Abstract: We know that undergraduate students who participate in mentored research/creative experiences demonstrate higher retention rates and stronger academic and career outcomes, among other positive benefits (e.g., Girves, Zepeda, & Gwathmey, 2005; Lopatto, 2010; Kuh, 2008). However, these conclusions may be biased because samples often capture only students who are already participating. If undergraduate research/creative experiences are touted as a high-impact practice for all college students, then research must also examine students’ initial choice to participate. Thus, we investigated and will report findings for the following research questions in our proposed presentation:

  • What motivators and barriers influence undergraduate students’ participation in research/creative activities?
  • What role does mentoring play as a motivator or barrier to students’ participation?

To answer the questions, our multi-institutional team developed and administered a survey instrument to undergraduate students at four institutions. We designed the survey questions to capture a range of possible explanations for participation and non-participation, including aspects of mentoring. Our analysis draws from 979 complete student responses.

Overall, 30.9% of students currently participate in an undergraduate research/creative activity, 42.5% intended to participate, and 26.6% have no plans to participate; there were minimal differences across institution and demographic groups. For those who currently or intended to participate, the common motivator was intrinsic (i.e., being personally interested or excited about the work). For those who are not currently participating or have no plans to participate, the common barrier was instrumental factors (i.e., limited time or income to participate). Interestingly, faculty mentors were not identified as a motivator, but a lack of faculty mentorship was identified as a barrier to students’ participation. Based on our findings, we developed the concept of “pre-activity mentoring” to capture student and mentor preparation to engage in undergraduate research/creative activity as a key, not yet studied, characteristic of mentoring undergraduate research.

June 2016. Council on Undergraduate Research Biennial Conference.

Berner, N., S. Davis, J. Ditty, P. Garner, A. Johnson, J R. Jones. Manske, D. Mahatmya, and J.A. Morrison (authorship order is alphabetical). 2016. Pathways to and through undergraduate research:  A multi-institutional assessment.

Abstract: Undergraduate research has become widely accepted as a best practice in higher education and many universities are investing significant resources into supporting it. Questions remain regarding the inclusion and diversity of these initiatives. We sought to learn who is participating in research/creative activity outside of regular course assignments, who is not participating, who plans to, and who does not plan to – and why. We deployed a survey instrument at four institutions (George Mason University, The College of New Jersey, Sewanee University of the South, and University of St. Thomas to capture a wide range of possible explanations for participation and non-participation, including aspects of mentoring. Analysis of our data from 991 responses explores the differences among defined groups and among institutions regarding the frequency of student participation in research and creative activity and identifying the factors that are motivators and barriers to participation. This presentation will summarize the survey instrument used, respondent demographics, frequency of participation, and our findings related to motivators and barriers to participation. Of the students surveyed, we found that 30.9% currently participate in an undergraduate research/creative activity, 42.5% intended to participate, and 26.6% have no plans to participate; there were minimal differences across institution and demographic groups. For those who currently or intended to participate, the common motivator was intrinsic (i.e., being personally interested or excited about the work).

November 2015. AAC&U’s Crossing Boundaries—Transforming STEM Education Conference, Seattle, WA.

Morrison, J.A. 2015. TCNJ BOLD (Broadening Opportunities, Leveraging Diversity): Gateway to Research Careers In Science. PDF

June 2012. Council on Undergraduate Research 14th National Conference, The College of New Jersey.

Morrison, J.A., Chan, B. and K. Chan. 2012. Enhancing the institution-wide scholarly community through multidisciplinary faculty-student summer research programs. PDF

Morrison, J.A. and S. Gregerman. 2012. Approaches to engaging diverse students in research. PDF

June 2011. Gateways to Best Practices for Undergraduate Research Program Directors, St. Louis, MO.

Bergeren, M., J.A. Morrison, and S. Gregerman (authorship order is equal). Early engagement of students in research. PDF

Morrison, J.A. and S. Gregerman. Approaches to engaging diverse students in research.

June 2010. Council on Undergraduate Research 13th National Conference, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.

Lovett , D. and J.A. Morrison. 2010. Building on successful undergraduate research programs to create a gateway to science careers for underrepresented students.  PDF

Morrison, J.A. and Chung, H. 2010. Connecting faculty-student research to the greater community: opportunities to engage in service and deepen learning.   PDF

August 2009. Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Albuquerque, NM.

Pohlad, B. and J.M Morrison. 2009. Workshop: Models of effective research at undergraduate institutions.

November 2008. American Association of Colleges and Universities: Engaging Science, Advancing Learning, Providence, RI.

Osborn, J. and J.A. Morrison. 2008. Shifting institutional infrastructure and culture to support faculty-student collaborative research.

 August 2008. Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Milwaukee, WI.

Morrison, J.A. 2008. Understanding a complex system: Faculty-undergraduate collaboration in multi-year ecological research teams.  PDF

 June 2008. Council on Undergraduate Research 12th National Conference, St. Joseph, MN.

  1. O’Connell, M., J.A. Morrison, L. Bradley, and D. Lovett. 2008. Creating the pipeline—three successful models for engaging students in research early in their undergraduate careers.
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