- How do students benefit from courses with GRCs?
- Who might be interested in adding a research component to their course?
- Who has taught a course with undergraduate research projects at UNC?
- How much might this change my course?
- What might students accomplish in my course?
- What might a GRC do to support my course?
- How is a GRC different from a TA?
- Why might I collaborate with a GRC?
- How can I choose a GRC?
- How can I request support for a GRC?
Undergraduate students who were enrolled in courses utilizing a GRC cited numerous benefits of the research component including the opportunity for hands-on learning, exposure to valuable library and web resources, increased knowledge in statistical methods, and greater confidence in conducting primary research. Students also appreciate being able to use these research-exposure GRC courses to meeting the multidisciplinary requirement of the Carolina Research Scholar Program.
…I feel like I have a lot more power over the research. It’s not like I have to go seek all this information out and maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t. I feel a lot more confident that I know how to do it and that it’s not a big scary thing. I feel much more in control of doing it.
I definitely think this [research project] is valuable because I haven’t had any other classes where we’ve had to use SPSS or any of those programs so I’ve done research projects but never with statistical analysis. And so it was very beneficial in that I learned how to use data sets and things like that for research. At first I didn’t want to do it going into it, but after I came out of it I was like wow, I understand things a lot.
…as another teaching method, having students work in small groups on projects has impressed me as a way to help students learn and gain mastery of some material that they wouldn’t in a lecture format. It sort of astounds me how little people absorb from that format. And my role of GRC has helped highlight that for me.
Faculty might add a research component to their class because it may be a more enjoyable and familiar form of teaching for research faculty, as well as a positive alternative to the traditional lecture method. Others who might want to consider the GRC program include:
- Faculty who are already focusing on formal inquiry or methodology and want to incorporate a research component into their course in order to expand on what they are already teaching.
- Faculty who want to experiment with new teaching ideas with the help of financial and teaching support and within the framework of an organized across-the-curriculum program.
- Faculty who are considering developing courses to meet the experiential education requirement of the new General Education curriculum
…it certainly led me to think more critically about how you might encourage students to do research…in all my classes the students do research papers of some kind but I think it was very helpful to think about this one in that way.
Since the beginning of the GRC Program in 2003, faculty across the disciplines in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities have taught GRC courses with research components to undergraduates at UNC. These courses range from introductory level courses to advanced undergraduate courses. Some courses have had fewer than 20 students while other courses had more than 120 students. In addition, graduate students with GRC experience who serve as “instructors of record” have requested GRCs and developed research components for their courses. For the titles and instructors of all the GRC courses over time, (and links to blog posts from faculty and GRCs about specific courses), see the GRC database. You can also see statistics on numbers of undergraduates, faculty, and GRCs participating in the program, in the GRC Program Statistics Spring 2014.
…it makes for a better course. Because I’m convinced that the students like to do a research project…you want students to really be engaging with the world. And the can do so with research as a complement to what they’re learning in class. And there’s really not a substitute for that.
You could modify an existing project to make it research-based. If you do not have a project in place, you can add a research component.
I think there are different orders of thinking. Sort of the lower levels, route memorization, the midrange level of having to grasp concepts and think about them, and the high level is here’s the problem and try to get students to think critically about it and come up with approaches to solve the problem. That type of critical thinking is furthered in a way that is exemplified by [the GRC program]…to have students grapple with it in a way that’s going to be supportive is extremely valuable.
Students’ accomplishments in courses with a research component can take on a variety of forms. For example, in a Communications Studies class students were responsible for proposing a research question, conducting interviews and administering surveys, data analysis, and writing up the results. This hands-on learning experience was quite different from the approach taken in previous semesters which included watching a contemporary film and applying theories learned in class. In a Sociology class, students administered a survey to determine Americans’ attitudes toward a particular religious group. This project provided students with a valuable opportunity to learn about attitudes first hand in addition to reading about this information in a textbook.
…we wouldn’t have learned anything about it if we hadn’t researched it and listening to other people do their research helps too. I think it helped a lot instead of just reading out of the book and talking about it.
…it was very valuable because you learned way more on your own then you would ever in a classroom.
I certainly did learn valuable skills in setting up a research project because I had never really done that before. I had done reports on things or research papers but never really primary research. I didn’t know how to do that…it was valuable in that I was doing my own discovering with that.
A Graduate Research Consultant can provide faculty and classes invaluable support by guiding students through their research projects from beginning to end. They can help students learn particular research methodologies and be available for consultation throughout the semester. GRCs are expected to work 30 hours over the course of the semester and are paid $750 through the Office for Undergraduate Research.
I wouldn’t have done the project without a GRC and in particular it worked very well to have his expertise in survey research because I’m not an expert on survey methods. So he was able to describe various scales and talk about different kinds of question in a way that I couldn’t have done. So I appreciated that.
There are several ways in which a GRC is different from a TA. The major difference is that a GRC “coaches” students, but does not grade their work. The GRC has extended knowledge in research methodology. Additionally, a GRC does not attend all of the class sessions. Instead, GRCs can be available for individual or group consultation outside of class hours or they might attend selected classes. In rare instances, a graduate student might serve as both a GRC and a TA if the different roles in the course are clearly defined.
It’s useful to have a title other than “TA” because it clarifies that you are doing something beyond the traditional TA role. So you’re not just grading, but you’re actually trying to encourage undergraduates to conduct research that’s more directed and experiential than you typically otherwise encounter.
—Graduate Research Consultant
Many of the GRCs who participated in the GRC program since the program started in 2003, enjoyed the experience, and intend to participate again if possible, recommend the program to others, and incorporate student research into their own courses in the future. Collaborating with a GRC can have numerous benefits including:
- The opportunity to add an interdisciplinary perspective to the course and the research component
- Assistance with the logistics to support student research projects
- Addition of an advanced graduate student who may be more familiar with particular methodologies, current statistical methods, and statistical software packages
- Support for graduate students’ professional development as instructors and as future faculty members
My experience as a GRC was exciting—to have a role in allowing students to develop their own field work…for me it was exciting to see how that might work and to see what kind of support you might need for that to be successful…it was rewarding for me. It was also challenging. It helped me to know, if I were to implement [a research component] in my own course in the future how I might go about structuring it.
—Graduate Research Consultant
It was a great experience to work with undergrad students. It was fantastic to be able to see how the professor set up his class to include these group research projects. More than anything else, I saw a way of how to get undergrads involved in and excited about research.
—Graduate Research Consultant
…I was really drawing on her [the GRC's] expertise with having worked in this kind of project. Because I’m trained as a historian, I’m aware of a lot of methodologies, but I haven’t actually participated in—especially things that kind of bordered on empirical. She knows the literature a lot more in that regard. So it was invaluable to me to have somebody like that.
I think there’s always an advantage of having that graduate student/faculty collaboration on a class both for the role model potential and for somebody the students to feel there’s somebody else to go to besides the faculty member.
There are several ways you can go about choosing a GRC for your course. You can choose a graduate student that you have already worked with or that you hope to attract to your research. You can also seek recommendations from colleagues, including colleagues in other departments. Several faculty members have recruited graduate students outside their department to be GRCs in their courses. The OUR also maintains a database of graduate students who have expressed to us interest in being a GRC.
If you are interested in requesting support for a GRC please visit the GRC Program page of this website. Here you will find additional information about the program as well as an application. You may also find it helpful to preview the application.