Remote Undergraduate Research Mentoring

Posted 4/14/20 by Rachel Hayes-Harb

Dear Colleagues,

The limitations placed on research work by COVID-19 pose particular challenges for undergraduate researchers and their mentors. Many mentors are afraid that they will not be able to continue to support undergraduate researchers because they are accustomed to mentoring in-person research work. The current situation requires us to find new and creative ways to involve undergraduate students in meaningful research work.

Please note: Traditions of research and mentoring vary widely across disciplines, and the suggestions below will not suit every situation. Your suggestions for a more inclusive list of mentoring strategies will be very welcomed at

One of the exciting possibilities offered by undergraduate research is the opportunity to dive right into data collection and analysis. However, research questions and resultant data collection emerge from a profound understanding of the relevant context. Often–though not always–undergraduate students begin to engage with the literature after they have begun hands-on research work. The current environment presents an opportunity for students to begin by reading, reading, and reading some more so that they are ready to hit the ground running when in-person research work is again possible. Mentor strategies:

  • Talk with students about your experience with the “literature rabbit hole” and encourage them to pursue their own rabbit holes
  • Encourage the development of reading groups among the research team
  • Provide students with reading lists and ask them to develop annotated bibliographies
  • Encourage students to engage the help of librarians and other experts in evaluating and using citation management software

Another opportunity afforded by the current situation is the time and space to develop or expand expertise with technologies that support data collection and analysis. Mentor strategies:

  • Have students learn a relevant programming language or software
  • Give students old raw data and the publications reporting the analyses of that data, and have them recreate the original analyses using analysis software
  • Review your research team’s various procedures and invite students to revise/update research manuals and other materials

Finally, this is a great time for students to explore the Responsible Conduct of Research. Mentor strategies:

  • Present students with brief narratives describing difficult situations faced by researchers in your field. Point them in the direction of your field’s ethics statements and have them respond to the following questions: (1) What went wrong? (2) How should the situation be handled?, and (3) How can the situation be avoided in the future?
  • Have students create accounts at the Center for Open Science and explore their tools and guidance for research transparency, openness, and reproducibility.

I will add to this list as I learn from my colleagues how they are creatively navigating the situation around COVID-19. Many thanks in advance for your input!

With gratitude and my best wishes for your well-being,

Rachel Hayes-Harb


Additional Resources:

NORDP’s Mentoring in a Time of Crisis and Uncertainty

The Research Skill Development Framework