What’s it take to be a SOAR Mentor?

At VCSU the Student Opportunities for Academic Research program was established to encourage and support student research projects. Undergraduate research is among several high impact learning practices encouraged by the AAC&U.

Since the program’s inception in 2014, awards have been hosted¬†through eleven academic departments by twenty six faculty mentors working directly with students on forty two undergraduate research projects. A goal of the program is to involve each department, and to double the number of involved faculty.

For some of us, research work is like the back of our hand, we just have to be involved, while others wonder how they might forge time for scholarly works out of¬† busy teaching and advising schedules. Students may also be reticent, but of importance is the program’s emphases that “research” include artistry, creative work, and scholarship, and ideally is integrative and collaborative.

As a SOAR mentor, your fundamental role is to ensure an undergraduate researcher has a tractable idea, work with them to develop a successful proposal, then work alongside the student to manage their regular progress. Mentors report anywhere between an hour to six hours per week (and not every week) as a typical efforts on their part, while the students are putting in significantly more time. As a general notion, SOAR projects are considered to be 100 hours of student work.

Some mentors encourage students to develop from scratch their research ideas. Others ask students to take on a project that is related to their own works. Some faculty are selected by students because of positive classroom experiences, and occasionally that mentor is in no way an expert, instead more of an enthusiast who is intrigued to explore in company with the undergraduate researcher. In most cases, the discovery process for both student and faculty is a career highlight.

Responsibilities include proposal development oversight, ensuring timelines are feasible, expenditures and budgets are in order, and that the research is conducted at a regular pace. An important role is wedging the student out if stuck, or at least facilitating a path of success. Signing off three or four times so that they can be paid, and ensuring a presentation of their study is presented fill out the list of a mentor’s responsibilities.

Most enjoy the iteration with their student researchers and regard the experience memorable; in some cases that collaboration translates to a lifelong relationship. Spectacular is when a student who pre-SOAR had limited regard for research, then discovers “that wow, I can research, the challenge is exhilarating, and it’s fun.”

When unconsidered career pathways such as a second major or graduate school are pursued by the SOAR recipient, the program is ideally working. An age old realization: nearly all who go on to graduate school has had an authentic undergraduate research experience, however having said experience does not necessarily imply graduate school is in their destiny.

Please consider joining the ranks of the SOAR mentor, it is a distinct joy to work with students in their discovery process. Feel free to contact any of the SOAR Council to learn more on the merits of being a SOAR mentor.