Undergraduate Reseach: Jump Before Looking

I talked about my plan for undergraduate research last week. This week, I invited my linear algebra class to join a research team I am forming.

The class is roughly half sophomores and half first-years. They have had calculus and linear algebra. My plan is to come up with a research question based around either finite fields or group actions on cyclic groups. I feel like I have some questions at the appropriate level that have come up in my own research, although I cannot explicitly state them right now. I had better be able to by next fall if any students decide to join the research team.

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6 Responses to “Undergraduate Reseach: Jump Before Looking”

  1. Dana Ernst Says:


  2. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist Says:

    what would it look like for them to come up with research questions?

    • bretbenesh Says:

      That is a great question, and I think that this is the answer: I start them off with a research question, and then they branch off from that to ask their own research questions.

      They really haven’t had any exposure to the topics we will be studying, nor to much of any mathematics beyond doing algebra. So I think that I have to give them a “seed question” to give them a reason to think deeply about the material. Once they do that, I hope that they start asking their own questions (in fact, I am planning on requiring them to ask a research question before every meeting so that they can practice).

      I hope I am wrong about this, though. Does anyone want to tell me I am wrong, given the students (2nd years, mostly) and topic?

      • Joss Ives Says:

        I certainly hope you are not wrong. I have met very few people who have figured out (or put in the effort to try to figure out) how to engage undergrads in meaningful research when they are in that first to second year range.

      • bretbenesh Says:

        The only person I know of who has done that is Andy, and he supplies them with a starter question.

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