SPS Statement Regarding Undergraduate Research

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Dec 1 2008

Council action

The governing Council of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) and of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, has approved the following statement for general dissemination, with the final approval process being completed on December 1, 2008

We advocate that every student majoring in physics and/or astronomy engage in a meaningful undergraduate research experience.

• US House of Representatives Declares April 11-15, 2011 "Undergraduate Research Week"
• Read the Resolution: H. Res. 1654, "Undergraduate Research Week"
• SPS Letter to NSF Advocating for Undergraduate Research Experiences 

We encourage other groups of like mind to consider signing onto such a statement, and to work with SPS to help realize such an ambition for every physics student. Please contact Sean Bentley at sbentley [at] aip.org if your organization would like to sign-on to this statement, or if your group has endorsed something similar.

SPS has a long history of advocating undergraduate research through such efforts as the publication of Ed Neuenschwander's "How to Involve Students in Research: A Field Guide for Faculty", the maintenance of the SPS Chapter Research Awards, the SPS Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Research, and the support of student research presentations at professional society meetings.

Why was this statement adopted? 

The statement above was proposed as an official policy statement of SPS with the idea that it would be useful as an announcement to physics departments, as a tool to be used by others in defending undergraduate research, and as a possible statement for other societies to consider adopting. For a detailed rationale of the particulars of the statement, along with many useful supporting references regarding undergraduate research, see the Call to action developed by the Physics and Astronomy Division of CUR (CUR-P&A), with input from the American Physical Society's Forum on Education (APS-FEd).

This statement has its origins in the 2005-07 SPS Council Committees on Undergraduate Research (Committee chairs include then-undergraduate Katherine Zaunbrecher, as well as James Borgardt and Steve Feller), and in an SPS-hosted Workshop held at the Summer 2006 Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) meeting at DePauw University involving about 15 SPS and CUR representatives. CUR had recently adopted its own "JOINT STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES IN SUPPORT OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH, SCHOLARSHIP, AND CREATIVE ACTIVITIES", which covers a variety of disciplines, and SPS decided that a shorter statement addressing the physics community was called for. At the workshop, contributors to the statement's development include past Sigma Pi Sigma President Steve Feller, his former student Trent Edwards, Gary White, and especially CUR Council member John Mateja, who breathed new life into the issue in the fall of 2008 by challenging SPS to act to adopt an official position statement. The precise wording of the statement was hashed out at the 2008 SPS Council meeting after the group studied a longer document crafted by John Mateja and others (which we include below). CUR-P&A, APS Council, and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) have since adopted their own similar statements regarding undergraduate research:

Earlier draft of Joint Statement on Undergraduate Research in Physics and Astronomy with some supporting rationale

We, the undersigned members of the physics community, call upon this nation's physics and astronomy departments to provide, as an element of best practice, all undergraduate physics and astronomy majors a significant research experience.

The systematic study of phenomena and the creation of new knowledge through independent research are fundamental to science. As we prepare the next generation of those who will work in scientific and technological fields, it is critically important that undergraduates develop the habits of mind and the experimental and theoretical skills that underpin science. For those who will have the added responsibility of teaching at any level, participation in undergraduate research will help develop the foundation from which they can meaningfully engage their students in active, discovery-based learning.

Research experiences will necessarily take on different forms. On-campus faculty-mentored projects, participation in research at NSF-funded REU sites, research opportunities at national and corporate laboratories, and research opportunities provided through other federal agencies and private foundations should be strategically utilized to meet the needs of our students and departments.

The competitiveness of today's global marketplace, where products and ideas are increasingly influenced by science and technology, demands that the U.S. develop a nation of learners and sustain a nation of innovators. We call upon the undergraduate physics and astronomy departments to ensure that all undergraduates have the opportunity to engage in research. These experiences help attract, excite, and retain students as they prepare for careers in science.