Undergraduate Research Mentoring: Obstacles and Opportunities

Oct. 01, 2015

Source: Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, Vol. 23, No. 5, 441–453, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes the present gap between aspiration and effective execution of well-mentored undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative work (URSCW), including the most prevalent obstacles (e.g. institutional, departmental, individual) to undergraduate mentoring.

Persistent Obstacles to Undergraduate Research Mentoring

With persistent demands in higher education systems for grant-writing, publication, university service, and teaching, thoughtful, energetic,and engaged mentorship of undergraduate students may be challenging. Mentors often feel that time spent mentoring may increase the risk for burnout, decreased productivity, and subsequent difficulty with promotion milestones. This article described three distinct categories of obstacles to mentorship in higher education.

Institutional Obstacles
The main obstacle is the systems of promotion, tenure, and annual faculty evaluations that seldom consider quality advising or mentoring. The authors argue the academic faculty dedicate their time for grant-funded scholarship and publication frequency.
In addition, another obstacle is the proliferation of part-time or adjunct faculty appointments. Finally, the rapid growth of online degrees and professionally oriented degree programs also influence on high-quality mentoring of undergraduates. These programs are often geared toward practitioner careers, and rely heavily upon part time professional faculty.

Departmental Obstacles
First, the authors argue that academic departments themselves occasionally undermine development of an academic culture conducive to mentoring. Department chairs may erroneously say that an advising assignment is equivalent to mentorship.
Second, some academic departments encourage a competitive climate that fosters fierce competition among students for scarce resources such as faculty time and mentorship of URSCW experiences.
Further, some academic departments cannot succeed in appropriately rewarding excellent mentors to undergraduate students. Performance in the mentor role is seldom considered when assigning teaching and service loads to faculty.
Finally, some academic departments cannot succeed in deliberately working at constructing a diverse faculty.

Individual Faculty Obstacles
The individual-based obstacles involve problems of competence, other personal problems, efforts to remake students into their own professional likeness, and lack of genuine investment in the mentoring enterprise.


The authors recommend that higher education administrators and chief academic officers play an essential role in stimulating attention to URSCW mentoring.
They argue that academic leaders must recognize that not all faculty–student roles will translate to engaged mentoring relationships.
Furthermore, academic officers and program administers must work to operationally define what they mean by URSCW mentoring, including the character of exemplar faculty– undergraduate student relationships and the expectations for faculty who serve in this role. Moreover, effective leaders must recognize both the rewards and the costs to faculty who engage in high-quality undergraduate mentoring.
Academic leaders should create a culture of collegiality.
Collegial academic environments are characterized by trust, respect, and transparency. The authors suggest that such collegiality lends itself to care and concern for student development.
Academic leaders must attend to mentoring efficacy and potential in faculty hiring.
Finally, academic leaders must prepare faculty for mentoring excellence.
The authors argue that new faculty may benefit from training that emphasizes the evolving and increasingly collegial nature of positive mentorships, the ethical obligations unique the mentoring role, and strategies for addressing conflicts or concerns with mentees in URSCW contexts.



The authors conclude that this research shows that the experience, which students engaged in URSCW, has the potential to provide deep and lasting high-impact learning. This potential can only be fully realized when the institutions commit to the belief that high-quality mentoring matters, for students, faculty, and their institutions.

Updated: Oct. 24, 2017