'I like being a lab rat': Student experiences of research participation

Brewer, Gayle orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0690-4548 and Robinson, Sarita Jane orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4237-5412 (2017) 'I like being a lab rat': Student experiences of research participation. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42 (7). pp. 986-997. ISSN 0309-877X

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1332357


Undergraduate students are often expected to be participants in academic research. However, decisions relating to student participation in research are typically based on speculation or educator assumptions rather than a solid research base. We conducted three studies to investigate student experiences of research participation. These included online surveys (Study 1), semi-structured interviews (Study 2), and analysis of reflective essays (Study 3). A range of pedagogic and ethical issues were considered including motivation to participate, distress, and the educational value of participation. Findings suggest that the experience provides students with important opportunities to learn about research methodology and ethical issues which inform their own research practice. Further, students cite additional non-academic benefits of research participation such as self-discovery and networking opportunities. Negative experiences typically consisted of nervousness prior to the first laboratory study or boredom, though for some students (e.g. those uncomfortable in social situations) engagement in research may lead to anxiety. We conclude that participation in research has pedagogic value to students, and educators should promote those elements of the research experience (e.g. critiquing studies, networking with researchers) that are most beneficial. However, researchers and educators should also actively work to reduce apprehension and minimise potential distress.

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