Curiosity out of the classroom: The impact of research experience on undergraduate students

Engineering; Education

This project will study the influence of hands-on, lab-based research experience on undergraduate students' curiosity and motivation, exploring what characteristics of experiences matter the most.

Research Interests
  • motivation
  • Curiosity
  • Undergraduate research experience
  • Research participation
  • Active learning

Research shows that students' motivation in formal educational contexts, such as college classes, is driven by the desire to perform well as indicated by test scores and grades, rather than curiosity. This is unfortunate, as mastery or learning-oriented goals - those that come from curiosity - are more likely to promote deeper, more meaningful learning. Because many undergraduate classes have content-focused or skill-focused goals, assessments of learning in these courses are performance-driven by design and necessity. Research experiences are ways that students can practice applying things they learn in their courses in a context that is not focused on performance assessments, and offers greater opportunity for exploration and question asking. The proposed project will explore whether participation in hands-on research through internships can promote students' curiosity, and what specific characteristics of research experiences relate to positive student perceptions of research and the broader topic area. We will test whether the effects of the research experience on students' curiosity and motivation extends beyond their research participation and influences future course selection and career interests.

Desired outcomes

Through the 3C project, we hope to collect initial data on the impact of research experiences on students curiosity, motivation, and broader outcomes that can be used to inform decision making around program curricula for research experience in undergraduate degree requirements. Some college majors require students to participate in research, and we will study whether this experience has positive effects on students' curiosity and identify ways of making the research experiences most beneficial for students. The project will also provide pilot data for a grant proposal to fund a larger study of the influence of undergraduate research experience on student curiosity and career choice that will focus on identifying ways of designing and using research experiences to promote curiosity and interest in STEM careers in students from populations that are underrepresented and needed in the STEM workforce.