Undergraduate Research Definitions

The Office of Undergraduate Research staff works with campus partners to identify and define terms related to undergraduate research for the Purdue West Lafayette campus. The functional definition for key terms is presented on this site. For details on the process and additional definition components (sample values, contexts, cautions and clarifications, standard uses or misuses, keywords, and links to references) please see this paper.

OUR definitions are divided into groupings: general definitions, categories of undergraduate research, and models of undergraduate research.

General Definitions

Undergraduate Research: The PWL definition of undergraduate research is based on the Council on Undergraduate Research but adapted for PWL as follows:

Undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry is fundamentally a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. With an emphasis on process, CUR defines undergraduate research as:

A mentored investigation or creative inquiry conducted by undergraduate and professional students that seeks to make a scholarly or artistic contribution to knowledge.

Undergraduate Research Experience: An undergraduate research experience is any experience that fits the definition of undergraduate research and includes a mentee (the undergraduate researcher) engaging in practices (typical for at least one category of undergraduate research) with the following characteristics:

  • Generation of novel outputs.
  • Focus on significant, relevant problems of interest and, in some cases, a broader community.
  • Emphasis on collaboration and teamwork.
  • Iterative refinement of components (such as questions, design, or creatives).
  • Mastering of specific techniques.
  • Engagement in reflection.
  • Communication of results or presentation of creatives.
  • Structured, guided mentoring, with the mentee assuming increased ownership of some aspects of the project over time.

Undergraduate Researcher: A student participating in the undergraduate research experience is known as an undergraduate researcher.

Undergraduate Research Mentor: The person fulfilling the mentorship role in the undergraduate research experience is known as the undergraduate research mentor.

Mentorship (Mentoring): Mentoring is a collaborative learning relationship that proceeds through stages over time and has the primary goal of a mentor helping an undergraduate researcher acquire essential competencies needed for an undergraduate researcher to succeed in their chosen career. Therefore, mentorship is a professional, working alliance in which the mentor and undergraduate researcher work together over time to support the personal and professional growth, development, and success of the relational partners through the provision of career and psychosocial support.

Categories of Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research categories distinguish and describe the nature of undergraduate research experiences at PWL within categorical labels. Presently, PWL uses five categories of undergraduate research experiences: Creative, Humanities, Social Science, STEM, and Business Case Study.

Creative research has no singular definition, as creativity is essential to the experience. Thus, creative research is an undergraduate research experience where the experience includes:

  • A process that is creative,
  • A production or output that is creative,
  • Refining existing knowledge creatively, or
  • Any other creative adaptation identified as creative research by the mentor and UR.

The humanities category includes research in the study of humans and their languages, literatures, cultures, arts, history, and philosophy.

The social science category includes research investigating human behaviors, relationships, and experiences.

The STEM category includes research conducted within a scientific experimental design.

The business case study category includes research of a phenomenon, within a real-life context, where the researcher has little control over the situation.

Models of Undergraduate Research Experiences

At PWL, all undergraduate research experiences must first fit the definition for undergraduate research experiences and second fit at least one category of undergraduate research experience. Then, the experience fits within one of three models: research apprenticeships, research-based coursework, or student-led.

Research Apprenticeship: The research apprenticeship model occurs within a work setting under close mentorship and includes:

  • An authentic research experience,
  • Key components of a holistic experience, and
  • Is mentored by a PWL faculty/staff member or, if an off-campus experience, is coordinated by a PWL faculty/staff member.

This type of experience may also be referred to as (or appear as part of) an internship, paid research job, co-op, or other experiential education.

Research-Based Coursework: The research-based coursework model occurs within any teaching space setting that:

  • Includes a research experience,
  • Is mentored by a PWL faculty/staff instructor,
  • Is offered for credit, and
  • Over 50% of the overall course grade is based on the research experience.

Special case: Research-based coursework is specifically defined as a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) if the coursework also:

  • Includes a novel research experience and
  • Is holistic from the creation of questions through presentation.

Student-Led Research Experience: Student-led research experiences are a URE model where a student, or group of students, establish and engage in their own experience that includes a novel research experience and key components of a holistic experience, but the experience is:

  • Not offered for credit at PWL and not compensated with a wage, and
  • Not coordinated by a PWL faculty/staff member, and
  • Mentoring not established by a PWL faculty/staff member.