This article is published in the April 2018 issue.

Understanding Why Many Undergraduate Students Don’t Participate in Research

In CERP’s 2017 Data Buddies Survey, 9,610 undergraduate students indicated whether they had participated in a formal research experience during their college career to date. Interestingly, 72 percent of students indicated that they had not. Among students who had not participated in formal research, 34 percent indicated they planned to participate in formal research before they graduated, 23 percent indicated they did not plan to do so, and 42 percent of students were undecided (1 percent did not provide a response). Students who did not plan to pursue formal research in college or who were unsure about pursuing research explained why this is the case. The top three reasons included a preference for a “more applied experience,” such as an internship; a lack of awareness about research opportunities; and lack of time to pursue research. Other reasons included a lack of interest in research; the fact that research had never occurred to students as an activity to pursue; and the fact that formal research experiences do not pay well if at all.

Actionable items for departments to engage students in formal research include:

  • Advertise research experiences on department websites, bulletin boards, and other public spaces. Research experiences can be both inside and outside of the department.
  • Hold informational sessions on the benefits of formal research, particularly the benefits of formal research over internships.

Notes. CERP collected data from 10,282 undergraduate students who were majoring, minoring, or enrolled in computing courses at a national sample of universities and colleges via the Data Buddies Project. N = 9,610 students responded to the question: During your college career so far, have you participated in any formal research experiences? Formal research includes any experience you applied for and through which you worked closely with a mentor or research advisor. Yes or No. Students who responded “No” (N = 7,361) were asked: Do you plan to participate in a formal research experience before you graduate from college? Yes, No, or Undecided. Students who responded “No” (N = 1,702) or “Undecided” (N = 3,059) were asked: Which of the following reasons explain why you are undecided about computing research or have chosen not to participate? Select all that apply. I am not aware of research opportunities available to me; I don’t have time; It never occurred to me to do research; I am not interested in doing research; I prefer more practical experiences such as internships; and It doesn’t pay well enough or not at all.