Remote Undergraduate Research Mentoring

Dear Office of Undergraduate Research Community,

Due to the growing concerns with regards to global pandemic, new variants like Omicron, learning that the University of Utah hospitals are reaching capacity, as well as public health mandates, the Office of Undergraduate Research is reaching out to OUR community to convey that we will continue to do our part to support public health, wellness, and research. We recognize the significance of research during a pandemic – the role of undergraduate researchers who work in collaboration with faculty and staff to collectively foster a thriving research and intellectual community – are central to creating community, solving problems, and facilitating solutions.

  • OUR encourages weekly testing, vaccinations, and mask wearing to support collective well-being, to learn more about this visit: https://coronavirus.utah.edu/
  • We also recognize that different labs and medical environments have specific requirements regarding PPE – we encourage you to consult with your department leadership for guidance.
  • We encourage mentors and undergraduate researchers evaluate public health response and appropriately adjust research processes, expectations, and timeline if necessary to support tele-research and the above mask mandates and ensure public safety – safety of research teams, staff, students, and communities’ researchers are researching with.
  • OUR offers great content including the Undergraduate Research Education Series – please check out our web-based content. More forthcoming with regards to researching during a pandemic.
  • OUR is committed to supporting research communities, therefore we are available. We do have an in-person presence. OUR staff are present in the office in SILL during normal business hours with staff also providing web connection Monday – Friday, 8AM – 5PM. 

Your safety and wellness matters and so does the wellness of OUR. If you have any other suggestions as to how OUR can support and foster a human centered, publicly well environment, I welcome your suggestions. OUR team also welcomes dialogue if you would like to brainstorm or discuss how research may be adapted for ongoing public health measures. 

OUR will regularly update the research community about our COVID-19 operational policies, on our website

Stay up-to-date with the Office of the Vice President for Research to learn more about research opportunities and recommendations. 

From OUR team to yours,

Annie Isabel Fukushima, Ph.D. 
Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies, Transform 
Associate Dean, Undergraduate Studies 
Director, Office of Undergraduate Research

Cindy Greaves, Program Manager
Sandra Luo, Undergraduate Research Advisor
Megan Shannahan, Academic Program Manager
Shiver, Academic Program Manager

Suggestions for Remote Research Mentoring

The transition to remote research has presented many challenges to both researchers and their mentees. Beyond transitioning the research itself to a new format, mentors and mentees have had to consider how to modify the mentoring aspect as well. Colleagues from around the country have pulled together lists of suggestions from their faculty about how to adapt in-person mentoring practices to a virtual format. We’ve summarized the most common suggestions into the list below. No matter what stage of the mentoring process you are in, we hope this list will be helpful to you as you hone your own remote mentoring practice.

Helpful suggestions for transitioning to remote research mentoring:

Communication

Communicate with your mentees regularly and as clearly as possible in rapidly changing circumstances. This is more important than ever?

    • For mentors:
      • Create a to communicate with your mentees – discuss the frequency of individual and group meetings.
      • Explicit share hours of availability and the modality (zoom, remote, phone, or in-person)
      • Schedule regular check-in meeting – suggested that faculty consider weekly or biweekly check-ins.
      • Depending on your relationship with your mentees, they might be intimidated or overwhelmed with asking anything of you. It is important for you to reach out and discuss their concerns.
      • Consider asking the modality of submitting materials/updates:
        • written updates due before check-ins (progress reports, summary of key tasks, report on accomplishments, obstacles, questions for discussion). 
    • For undergraduate researchers
      • How often do you hope to hear from your mentees?
      • keep up with lab/research notebooks 
      • Calendar deadlines and work ahead of expected deadlines
    • Set up a shared virtual workspace
      • Microsoft Teams, box or Slack or upload to Google Drive electronic data sets, video, and/or take pictures of research tasks.
      • Consider that some of the above modalities are not secure, therefore discuss this.

Setup clear expectations

    • Here is a sample of a mentor-mentee agreement 
    • Explicitly discuss and consider the challenges; adapt expectations to be realistic.
      • Which expectations and/or goals are important to maintain? Which need to be modified? How is your schedule of progress affected?
    • What skills will your mentees need to develop and how will research happen if campus is closed, hours of operation are limited or mandates impact research?
    • If you are unable to fully meet the needs of your mentees, who should they check-in with? Reach out to colleagues for help.
Wellness & Research

Crisis like a global pandemic can impact wellness – both physiologically, emotionally and psychologically. The wellness of our research community matters.

Communicate with a will towards empathy

    • Acknowledge that these are uncertain times and that it’s normal to feel to feel distress. Provide reassurance at check-ins.
    • Remember that everyone’s home environments look different. Your mentees may have different levels of access to technology and may have differing levels of caregiving obligations.

Self-care and collective care fosters a healthy research environment

Flexibility & Creativity

Global pandemic has led to the need for academic institutions and communities to experience regularly changes – changes in public health, policies. 

    • Be flexible with deadlines and changing schedules.
    • Plan for “the known”
      • For mentees who are nearing graduation, consider helping them develop a realistic action plan to meet a rapidly changing job market.
    • Find creative ways for mentees to get to know you and other research colleagues and for informal conversations to happen. 
      • Virtual coffee hours or lunches to encourage people to get to know each other.
      • Frequent virtual lab hours for lab members to have a space to check in with and get to know each other.
      • Virtual journal clubs
      • Virtual writing groups
      • Virtual accountability groups
Ideas for Engaging Undergraduates in Remote Research

Looking for ways to involve undergraduates in remote research? Here are some ideas:

Early research ideas

  • Create databases
  • IACUC/IRB protocols
  • Research future trends and/or new product ideas
  • Write ‘lab manual’ of standard operating procedures for new students

Data collection analysis

  • Archival research in online archives
  • Coding projects
  • Conduct virtual interviews
  • Develop web-based surveys/questionnaires
  • Experimental design
  • GIS-based project
  • Learn new skills like modeling software, drawing software, plotting software, etc.
  • Meta-analysis of existing literature
  • Modeling/computational work
  • Remote data gathering/analysis
  • Transcribe films, interviews, other materials

Writing

  • Conduct literature searches and reviews (create/update database, work on citation management skills)
  • Manuscript writing project (collaborate on writing up results of previous experiments)
  • Write methodology and/or introduction sections for papers, posters, etc.
  • Grant writing project

Presenting research / Public intellectualism

  • Create figures, tables, and/or charts
  • Develop videos used for communicating science to a general audience
  • Website building
  • Podcast development

Professional development

  • Professional development (CV preparation, grad school prep)
  • Identify experimental data that can be modeled using fundamental principles
  • Mock job / interview talks on zoom

We recognize that traditions of research and mentoring vary widely across disciplines. In order to provide a more inclusive list of suggestions, we want to hear from you! How have you adapted your mentoring practice and/or research for remote undergraduates? Do you have any suggestions we can share? Let us know here. We’ll update this page with your input.

The above information was summarized from the following resources:

Austin College Johnson Center

Cornell University Graduate School

NC State University Office of Undergraduate Research

Northwestern University Searle Center

Some Advice for PhD Students and Their Mentors in the Time of Coronavirus

The University of Tennessee Knoxville Office of Undergraduate Research

University of Colorado Colorado Springs Center for Student Research

Additional Resources:

NORDP’s Mentoring in a Time of Crisis and Uncertainty

The Research Skill Development Framework

*Special acknowledgements to Dr. Rachel Hayes-Harb & Megan Shannahan