Psychology Division Joins the Council on Undergraduate Research

By Andrea R. Halpern, PhD, Bucknell University
Psychology has a long tradition of engaging undergraduate students in research. Similar to other sciences, students learn the formal and informal challenges and rewards of conducting original research by forging close professional relationships with mentors. Many faculty members and students believe that this kind of interaction is one of the most successful forms of teaching. Particularly in smaller departments at primarily undergraduate institutions, collaboration with undergraduate researchers blurs the line between research and teaching. This attention to the training of undergraduate researchers may be one reason why smaller liberal arts colleges supply a significant fraction of eventual recipients of the PhD in psychology.

This history of involvement of undergraduates in research makes the recent addition of a Psychology Division to the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) such a welcome development. CUR■s purpose is to foster undergraduate research opportunities in the sciences at predominantly undergraduate institutions (PUIs). Begun by chemists some years ago, CUR offers membership to any interested faculty members or administrators, and until last year, comprised divisions in Chemistry, Biology, Geology, Math/Computer Science, Physics/Astronomy, and At-Large. This last division houses administrators as well as members not belonging to other divisions.

In 1992, I, as well as a few other psychologists in the At-Large Division, explored the possibility of proposing a Psychology Division. Attending the annual CUR meeting at Pomona College that year as observers, we petitioned and were granted status as a new division of CUR. This was made official by a constitutional change this year.

I have the honor of serving as Chair of the Psychology Division in its first official year. Twelve additional psychologists serve as elected ■councilors■ who carry out the various tasks of CUR. Within 2 years, we hope to be up to the maximum allowable number of 24 councilors. Membership of the Division currently stands at about 160, but I expect this number to grow rapidly in the current year.

How does CUR foster undergraduate research? One of its most popular activities is the publication of divisional directories that document the research activities of undergraduates and mentors at PUIs. Funding agencies, graduate schools, and institutional research personnel find these directories to be a valuable source of information and publicity. Psychology is in the initial phases of compiling its directory. Surveys were sent to approximately 1,000 departments of psychology at PUIs this past fall; over 500 departments responded. This information will provide the database for our first directory as well as a pool of faculty members potentially interested in joining the organization.

CUR also provides opportunities for mentors of undergraduate researchers to communicate with one another. In addition to the national database just mentioned, CUR publishes a journal (CUR Quarterly) devoted to examination of issues in undergraduate research; informs its members via a newsletter; and maintains a consulting service for departmental reviews, a speaker■s bureau, and an electronic bulletin board. The Psychology Division has already contributed several articles to the Quarterly and will probably organize its consulting service in the coming year. We anticipate that psychology departments, particularly at PUIs, will be quite interested in this service.

As a more visible function, CUR provides a voice at the national level for undergraduate research at public and private funding agencies. For instance, CUR was influential in securing passage of National Science Foundation programs that target undergraduate institutions, such as Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI), Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement (ILI), Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), and the Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) program at the National Institutes of Health. Psychology is an active participant in these programs, and we are working to secure strong relationships with the appropriate administrators at funding agencies. Also, CUR has a summer grant program that currently awards about 40 stipends a year to undergraduates.

Finally, CUR runs a biennial National Conference to examine critical issues affecting undergraduate research in the sciences. The 1994 Conference at Bates College attracted approximately 800 participants (including 40 psychologists), who attended a wide variety of workshops and heard lectures from distinguished public officials and scientists. Numerous funding agencies also sent representatives. The 1996 Conference is scheduled for North Carolina Central University.

We are very optimistic that the Psychology Division will become an important part of CUR. We take pride that the other members of CUR recognized psychology■s status as a mature science and the active role of PUIs in training future psychologists. Further information about CUR may be obtained from the Executive Office at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (

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