Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


John W. Tillotson


expectancy-value theory, mentoring structure, undergraduate research experience, undergraduate STEM education

Subject Categories



Undergraduate research has been considered as a high impact practice. Engaging in research in early college years are crucial to attracting and retaining students in research-related STEM careers. However, undergraduate research literature mostly focuses on the research experiences of students that are later in their undergraduate years. This dissertation is formed in an article-style format, which is a compilation of two separate research efforts to explore undergraduate students’ research experiences in their freshman and sophomore years. This article-style dissertation is part of a larger investigation into the academic and social experiences of high-achieving low-income undergraduate students. The context of the studies in this dissertation was the National Science Foundation [NSF] funded the Strategic Undergraduate STEM Talent Acceleration INitiative [SUSTAIN] project and the twenty-four undergraduate researchers who participated in the project. Chapter 1 provides an introduction that discusses the need for studying students’ early-year undergraduate research experience and explains the structure of the dissertation. Chapters 2 and 3 each present a complete study with an introduction, literature review, method, results, and discussion.

Chapter 2 includes a qualitative investigation of the mentoring structures and the types of support provided to early-year undergraduate researchers. The types of support participants received revealed differences in mentoring dyad or triad structure, as well as the amount of their research experience. Given the potential benefits to undergraduate researchers, undergraduate research programs should be designed to provide clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations from mentors to maximize the support provided to students. Chapter 3 is an exploratory study that utilizes the expectancy-value theory to investigate how much and in what ways early-year undergraduate researchers value their research experience, and which costs they associate with it. Results indicated that intrinsic value and opportunity cost played the most important role in students' motivation to engage in research. This study contributes to the literature by providing preliminary evidence of the range of possible student experiences about the values and costs students associate with their research experience and identifies the most promising avenues for future studies to find ways to improve undergraduate research programs. Collectively, the studies in this dissertation help us better understand early-year undergraduate research experience from students’ perspectives.


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