Undergraduate Research & Experiential Opportunities

The purpose of this document is to support academic programs, faculty mentors, and students developing research and experiential opportunities for undergraduates in AY 20-21.

COVID-19 and Undergraduate Research & Experiential Learning 

Many undergraduate students pursue collaborative, project-based and research experiences annually at Brown. These experiences normally take place alongside faculty in campus-based and clinical departments through independent study courses, senior theses, capstones, paid and voluntary positions, via Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards (UTRAs), and more. STEM, visual arts (VISA), and theatre arts and performance studies (TAPS) students seek out traditional research, studio and performance opportunities to meet concentration requirements and prepare for graduate programs and the workforce. Faculty leading research labs are guided by Resuming Research Principles and Procedures, which prioritize the health of Brown’s community. The Resuming Research Principles and Procedures include policies for including undergraduates in laboratory research plans. Uncertainties due to COVID-19 and subsequent University policies will impact some student-faculty plans to pursue in person experiences on campus in AY 20-21. Please note that instructors who are developing lab, studio, and performance classes that involve an in-person component should refer to the guidelines for developing plans for safe instruction.


Guidance for Directors of Undergraduate Study, Advisors, and Faculty Mentors

Students benefit greatly from research and experiential learning (Auchincloss et al., 2014; Kuh, 2008; Linn, Palmer, Baranger, Gerard, & Stone, 2015; Russell, Hancock, & McCullough, 2007). Academic programs should consider COVID-19 impacts on the ability of concentrators to meet research, studio and performance-based requirements in the coming year. Programs might consider the non-traditional opportunities presented below as students strive to satisfy requirements remotely. Many of the examples provided can be adapted for independent study course work, capstone experiences, UTRAs, and senior theses. 

While this type of remote research and experiential learning may seem daunting at first, experience in recent months revealed that it is surprisingly feasible. Keys to success include regular individual meetings with lab/scholarly group members who can provide assistance with the inevitable bumps in the road, including snags when working with new materials and concepts remotely. Another key is student involvement in regular group meetings, where immersion in discussion of ongoing projects and related papers provides important context. A third key is establishing guidelines for how students and mentors will communicate on a regular basis.

The Library is available to partner with faculty to create training plans for undergraduates pursuing research under their mentorship. The Library’s Research Tutorials and Consultations may be useful for faculty.

Concentrations planning to allow flexibility around research, studio, or performance-based work in response to the pandemic are not required to seek approval from the College Curriculum Council (CCC) for temporary exceptions to their CCC-approved requirements. They must, however, be sure to inform the appropriate student population (i.e., seniors, in the case of alternative capstone arrangements) and publish approved alternatives on their program websites.


Ideas for AY 20-21 Undergraduate Research & Experiential Learning 

Course-based Collaborative Research and Scholarly Experiences - Brown has a number of courses that engage groups of students in addressing a research question or knowledge gap of interest to scholarly communities. These courses make research and scholarly experiences more inclusive and accessible to students, and they are designed to complement the traditional model of 1:1 faculty-student mentorships or independent studies. 

Examples include:

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) - developed as part of the HHMI-Sheridan Research Course Initiative. Currently there are 12 Brown CURE courses in STEM although this model is adaptable across the humanities, arts, and social sciences as well (Hensel, 2018):

  • BIOL 0190R & S: Phage Hunters, Part I & II
  • BIOL 0285: Inquiry in Biochemistry: From Gene to Protein Function
  • BIOL 0440: Inquiry in Plant Biology: Analysis of Plant Growth, Reproduction and Adaptive Responses
  • BIOL 0600: Genetic Screening in Model Organisms
  • BIOL 0940G Antibiotic Drug Discovery: Identifying Novel Soil Microbes to Combat Antibiotic Resistance
  • BIOL 1515/2015: Conservation in the Genomics Age
  • BIOL 1555: Methods in Informatics and Data Science for Health
  • CHEM 0500: Inorganic Chemistry
  • CLPS1195: Life Under Water in the Anthropocene
  • CLPS 1591: Experimental analysis of vision for action and vision for perception: Are there separate mechanisms?
  • ENGN 1860: Advanced Fluid Mechanics
  • NEUR 1630: Open-Source Big Data Neuroscience Lab

Cogut Institute Collaborative Humanities Courses - team-taught undergraduate courses on a research theme, method, practice, or problem that has relevance across disciplines, divisions, or schools. Three courses have been funded thus far:

  • POBS 0711/HIST 0980M/HMAN 0701A/LACA 0711: Brazilian Democracy in Literature and History
  • CLPS 0540/ITAL 0701 (Italian Studies)/HMAN 0700A: Simulating Reality: The (Curious) History and Science of Immersive Experiences
  • Happiness in Psychology and Philosoph​y (Spring 2021)

Visual and Performing Arts

Visual art students might focus experiential learning opportunities on acquiring new skills, such as silk screening. In-depth intellectual or art making projects that lend themselves to remote work might include a cubism portrait, producing a graphic novel, developing political posters, creating sculptural installations made from accessible materials (i.e. sticks), and more. 

Theatre and performance arts students might create remote independent or collective projects focused on monologue or dialog work, orature, choral work, or choreography across platforms; playwriting, song writing, storytelling, and dance making; stand-up routines; ancient tragedy funneled through Zoom; postmodern approaches to dance, theatre, and performance-based art in novel spaces (i.e. kitchens, outdoors); performance-based art of all shapes, sizes, duration, and material composed for documentation; performance photography (think of Cindy Sherman, Yasumasa Morimura, Samuel Fosso) or more traditional practical approaches to acting for the camera; costume design; and more. Students can create documentation of live pieces to circulate on digital platforms, or create live pieces that take place digitally only once, imagining new roles for spectators as well as actors, designers, and directors in the context of online events. Many experiments in digital theatre, dance and performance are afoot with projects on Zoom or scene work and dances made through platforms that allow for physically distant artistic collaboration. Classes in theatre, dance and performance history and/or theory can enrich the sense of what is possible through arts experimentation given that experimentation is exactly what is needed in the time of COVID-19 as we imagine a new future for live arts crafts. 

Digital Scholarship

Students interested in the intersection of scholarship and digital technology or computing, can explore research collaborations through partnership with a faculty member and the University Library’s Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS). The design and implementation of digital scholarship projects provide experiential learning and research opportunities for students, and many projects can be conducted remotely. For example, students may be interested in research using digital versions of primary sources, including digital editions of texts or digitized items in the John Hay Library’s special collections. Example projects can include the curation of digital objects and online exhibits, and use of digital methods to explore a research question in the humanities by creating, analyzing, and visualizing a digital corpus of texts or images (i.e. text mining and topic modeling). The Digital Scholarship Resources Guide includes resources for asynchronous and synchronous instruction for faculty who want to include a digital project or assignment in courses including independent study. Requests can be made to [email protected].



Computation-based research projects

Modeling, data analysis, coding and GIS-based projects lend themselves to remote research opportunities for undergraduates with appropriate experience. Students might work collaboratively with members of the lab group or propose their own projects.   

Data analysis projects - Are there opportunities for students to work with old or new lab data? Opportunities to reanalyze existing data sets would allow students to test hypotheses and practice analytical skills. In cases where students were planning to carry out lab-based analytical work, statistical analyses or modeling of existing datasets could permit alternative lines of inquiry. Students could also contribute to goals of ongoing lab projects by checking, organizing, and summarizing recently compiled data, or contributing to preliminary analyses and creating figures and tables.

Big data repositories are an option for students to explore, learn from, and be inspired by while working remotely. 

Modeling projects - Codes that enable simulations of physical, chemical and biological processes are excellent research tools in a remote learning environment. In some cases where students were planning to conduct experiments in the lab, codes that enable modeling of similar processes will still allow them to pursue related hypotheses. Projects that inspire students to write their own modeling codes provide an in-depth learning experience.  However, many labs have developed well-understood codes that could provide students with options for numerical modeling experiments while not requiring them to engage in extensive programming.  

Skill building 

Responsible Conduct Of Research (RCR) Training - Understanding the scientific norms, principles, regulations, and rules governing the conduct of research is important for anyone engaged in scholarly work. Brown offers three main RCR programs designed to educate researchers and trainees on how to conduct scientific investigations responsibly and with integrity. These programs are typically offered in-person, but will likely be administered through remote learning models this academic year, and supplemented by RCR instruction through the CITI Program. The Brown Ethics and Responsible Conduct of Research (BEARCORE) course is open to Brown undergraduates; preferential enrollment in BEARCORE is provided to trainees and researchers to fulfill NIH and NSF RCR requirements. Brown's CITI Program RCR instruction is available at any time to all undergraduates. 

Literature searches - Undergraduates might learn how to read scholarly articles, develop and pursue strategies for advanced literature searches using different databases (i.e. PubMed vs Google Scholar), and carry these out in support of lab projects. Here, students might learn citation management skills and begin to master reference management software such as EndNote and Zotero. The Library has useful tutorials on Citation and Attribution, How to Evaluate Information and How to Develop Search Strategies

Designing experiments - Are there opportunities for students to work remotely alongside lab members to learn and contribute to experimental design?

Scientific communication - Undergraduates might work with lab groups to develop communications for general audiences. This might include contributions to a lab blog or news page, updates to lab group web pages, videos for general audiences, contributions to popular literature publications, or materials for citizen science projects. Students could contribute to or lead the development of a SciToons video based on lab research. 

Surveying - Survey-based research, including design, development and distribution, might lend itself to remote undergraduate opportunities to work with lab groups.

The Brown University Library is available to partner with faculty and students in the sciences to Support Blended STEM Teaching and Research

The Library’s Scientific Data Management Specialist is available to consult with students looking for datasets to pursue remote research. 

Writing-based projects

Internal research proposals & lab operating procedures - Is there an opportunity for undergraduates to contribute to development of internal proposals to Brown’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) or Institutional Review Board? Do lab group standard operating procedures (SOPs) require writing or updating? The Library provides a guide on Animal Alternatives Searching for IACUC. Electronic Lab Notebooks and protocols.io are resources students might engage with while supporting SOP or methods-based writing.

Grant proposals and manuscripts - Undergraduates might contribute to writing portions of grant proposals and/or manuscripts in preparation by lab group members. Undergraduates who have previously worked with a lab group, but are unable to continue in person, may be positioned to write methods and results sections, supplementary materials or develop reference lists for various projects (see literature searches above). 

Conducting and writing systematic literature reviews offers students the opportunity to learn early in their training how to choose and use the primary literature to address an overarching question, assess the state of a field or subfield, and identify knowledge gaps. Student led reviews offer lab groups the opportunity to compile background information relevant to grant proposals and related publications. Students might start by working with the faculty mentor / lab group to identify the review topic or question. The Library has a resource page for students working on Systematic and Literature Reviews as well as a guide to Definitions of some common types of review articles. Students might benefit from reading systematic reviews relevant to the discipline of interest and selecting a journal to write for – following the guide to authors. This offers a practical experience preparing publications for formal review. An initial outline in a shared Google Doc, including formal search and synthesis methods, might be developed collaboratively with members of the lab group prior to the student setting out to initiate the review. Weekly check-ins virtually and in person will be important for guiding the student’s experience, in addition to setting clear deadlines, offering regular feedback on synthesis and writing, and discussing expectations for a final product.

Fill in the blank research paper - Faculty mentors can provide advanced students with the methods and results from a lab paper in preparation for publication (i.e. not publicly available). In this exercise students are asked to produce the Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and References section based on the Methods and Results. This is a challenging but rewarding exercise that might be developed for advanced students who have had the opportunity to engage with coursework or literature relevant to the paper’s sub-discipline.


Humanities and Social Sciences

New media

Podcasts, YouTube, and other online media platforms offer students in the humanities and social sciences opportunities to engage the general public using course-related content. In creating multimedia content, students are asked to distill complex information into a format that is interesting, relevant, and intelligible for a broad audience. Student-created episodes can be as short as 90 seconds or as long as 15 minutes, depending on the learning goals of the assignment. Shorter episodes might explore a relatively finite topic, such as a single primary source, while longer episodes could be used as an alternative to a final research paper.

Podcasts can be created with free audio recording and editing software. They can be recorded using a smartphone (for higher quality recording, the use of headphones with embedded microphones is recommended) and, if necessary, edited in GarageBand (free for MacOS users) or Adobe Audition (available at no cost from Brown’s software catalog). The podcast episodes can be posted for free on SoundCloud; they can also be posted on iTunes by using PodBean (free for up to 5 hours of audio content). Creating videos for YouTube tends to be more technologically challenging, but they can be filmed using as little as a laptop webcam or smartphone camera, and edited using software such as iMovie (free for MacOS users) or Adobe Premier (available at no cost from Brown’s software catalog).

When integrating a new media assignment into your course, you may wish to scaffold the assignment by guiding your students through a critique of current podcast or YouTube episodes. Consider asking questions such as:

  • How do the most effective episodes begin and end?
  • Who is the intended audience? How does the creator engage with their audience?
  • How are the episodes structured rhetorically? How does this structure compare to that of a research paper?
  • How do audio or visual additions (such as embedded music and videos) enhance or detract from the primary content of the episode?

Online exhibitions and blogs

Online exhibitions and blogs offer students an opportunity to engage with each other and with the general public using text and multimedia.

Online exhibitions can encourage students to explore issues such as narrative creation, the politics of inclusion/exclusion, periodization, and genre within the topic of a course. Students could be asked to pick one text or object related to the course topic, and submit an image or excerpt along with a short description and argument for the object’s significance to the topic. For physical objects, students could then be tasked with working together to decide which thematic “galleries” in which to place the objects. For texts, students could be asked to pretend they are editing a sourcebook and collaboratively place the texts into thematic chapters. Students could then be asked to reflect (either in writing or in discussion) on the difficulties of arranging the texts or objects thematically. Online exhibitions can be hosted on WordPress

Blogs can be used as a way to encourage students to connect the course topic with the world beyond the classroom. For example, students in an introductory course on medieval history might be asked to post photographs of architecture and other imagery around campus that seems “medieval” to them; the photographs might be accompanied by a short paragraph explaining why that object seems “medieval” to the student. Course blogs can be created using BrownBlogs, Tumblr, or WordPress.


Contributors: Oludurotimi Adetunji (The College), Leslie Bostrom (Department of Visual Art), Amy Carroll (Office of the Vice President for Research), Charles Carroll (Sheridan Center and Department of History), Jennifer Casasanto (School of Engineering), Karen Fischer (Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences), Eric Kaldor (Sheridan Center), Joseph Meisel (Library and Department of History), Kym Moore (Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies), Jill Pipher (Office of the Vice President for Research and Department of Mathematics), Besenia Rodriguez (The College), Rebecca Schneider (Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies), Christina Smith (Sheridan Center and School of Engineering), Kate Smith (Biology Undergraduate Education), Julie Strandberg (Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies), Dave Targan (The College), Nicole Williams (Sheridan Center), Mary Wright (Sheridan Center and Sociology)


Additional Resources

Adetunji, O. O. (2020). UTRA Guide for Remote Research Mentoring during the Era of Novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Brown University.

Auchincloss, L. C., Laursen, S. L., Branchaw, J. L., Eagan, K., Graham, M., Hanauer, D. I., Lawrie, G., McLinn, C.M., Peleaz, N., Rowland, S., Towns, M., Trautmann, N.M., Varma-Nelson, P., Weston, T.J., & Dolan, E. L. (2014). Assessment of course-based undergraduate research experiences: A meeting report. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(1), 29-40. Available: https://www.lifescied.org/doi/10.1187/cbe.14-01-0004

Davis, Tracy C. (2020, March 23). Howlround Theatre Commons. Teaching Performance Arts During The Pandemic.

Flaherty, C. (2020, April 14). Remotely Hands-On. Inside Higher Ed

Galdwell, S. (2020, April 29). Alternative Summer Experiences for Undergraduate Students During COVID-19. American Society for Microbiology.

Hensel, N. (2018). Course-based undergraduate research: Educational equity and high-impact practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Kuh, G. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

Linn, M. C., Palmer, E., Baranger, A., Gerard, E., & Stone, E. (2015). Undergraduate research experiences: Impacts and opportunities. Science, 347(6222).

Russell, S. H., Hancock, M. P., & McCullough, J. (2007). Benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science, 316(5824), 548.

Sloan, V., Haacker, R., Batchelor, R., & Garza, C. (2020, June 18).  How Covid-19 Is affecting undergraduate research experiences. EOS.