Professor Daniel Stokols enjoys mentoring undergraduates who are willing to devote substantial time and effort toward transforming a creative idea into a research project that is both rigorous and feasible. He encourages his students not to be afraid to think boldly or to suggest research ideas that seem half-baked or far-fetched; often initial intuitions and fresh insights evolve into some of the most creative and valuable research projects. Professor Stokols has been mentoring undergraduates since he arrived at UCI in 1973, and a number of past mentees have moved on to successful research and teaching careers. He credits undergraduate research experience with increasing students’ confidence, developing networking skills and, often, clarifying future education and career goals.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

My interest in mentoring undergraduate students began when I arrived at UCI in 1973 and taught my first courses on environmental psychology and social ecology. I was stimulated and engaged by the enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity evident among students taking my classes who approached me about the possibility of serving as their mentor for independent research projects (ranging from one-quarter independent study courses yielding a literature review paper or research proposal, to year-long senior research theses involving the design and conduct of new empirical studies). At least one of the independent study students enrolled in my first large undergraduate lecture course in 1973 went on to earn a Ph.D. in Social Ecology, is now a distinguished professor at another university, and returned to Irvine a few years ago to receive a UCI Lauds and Laurels Distinguished Alumni Award. Over the years, several other undergraduates with whom I’ve worked have established successful research and teaching careers. It’s exciting and gratifying to see students develop over several years from their initial undergraduate research experiences at UCI into innovative, highly successful scholars, teachers, and policy makers.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I encourage my mentees to give free rein to their creative ideas and to be audacious as they take an initial insight or idea and develop it into a new construct, hypothesis, or theoretical framework. I also encourage my students to cultivate an openness toward adopting cross-disciplinary and multi-method approaches to their research questions, rather than being constrained by particular disciplinary boundaries, or locked into rigid orthodoxies about the presumed superiority of one methodological approach over another (e.g., quantitative vs. qualitative measurement; laboratory vs. field studies; experimental vs. quasi-experimental or non-experimental research designs). In fact, in some of my courses—such as those associated with UCI’s ID-SURE undergraduate fellowship program—I encourage junior and senior students drawn from several different academic majors to work together on cross-disciplinary team-based research projects. Generally, I like to work with students who are willing to devote substantial time and effort toward transforming a creative idea into a research project that is both rigorous and feasible, and has the potential to make a useful contribution at scientific and societal levels. As long as students are willing to work hard to achieve at least some of those goals, I am happy to work with them as a research mentor.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

The ways in which I work with students as their mentor varies considerably depending on the goals and inclinations of each individual and the requirements of their research projects. For example, collaborating with students on field research projects that require the development of new measurement protocols, the submission of IRB applications, primary data collection and analyses typically involves more frequent meetings and reviews of research materials and procedures than, say, independent study projects in which students work more independently on a literature review paper and/or research proposal. In the latter cases, meetings with students might be less frequent over the course of an academic quarter than in the former instances. My style in working with students is to expect the best of their abilities and to encourage them to think creatively as they formulate their research ideas, and plan and carry out new studies. I also enjoy learning about students’ non-academic interests and sharing with them my own interests within and outside academia (e.g., playing and listening to music).

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

I’ve noticed a number of developmental benefits that accrue from undergraduate students’ engagement in faculty-mentored research projects. First, they become much more confident about their abilities to formulate meaningful research questions and to translate them into rigorously designed and implemented empirical studies. Second, mentees become more comfortable in approaching and working with faculty members generally, as they gain experience and self-confidence through regular interactions with a particular mentor. Third, mentees often acquire a clearer sense of the educational and career directions they would like to pursue once they graduate from college. And fourth, mentees become more proficient at a variety of research skills, which often serves them well in their future careers, especially if they are interested in applying for admission to graduate programs across a variety of different fields.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I derive tremendous enjoyment and satisfaction from seeing students cultivate an excitement about their own research ideas and greater self confidence about their academic abilities and interpersonal skills as they progress through the various phases of a research project—and in some cases, go on to establish their own research and teaching careers. It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to work with so many talented, enthusiastic, and inspiring students each year. The opportunities to engage with my students in the classroom and through their mentored research projects are certainly among the very best aspects of my job as a professor of Social Ecology at UCI.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

First of all, don’t be shy about approaching a prospective faculty mentor to discuss your interests and ideas for developing independent study and collaborative research projects. Faculty members appreciate knowing that students are interested in working with them and are usually willing to serve as research mentors for highly motivated, enthusiastic students. Second, don’t be afraid to think boldly or to suggest research ideas that seem half-baked or far-fetched. Often students’ initial intuitions and fresh insights evolve into some of the most creative and valuable research projects. Third, be prepared to work hard. The various phases and processes associated with conducting research projects are labor intensive and require sustained motivation and stick-to-itiveness. But the potential benefits of your research experiences as an undergraduate scholar are tremendous if you are willing to persevere…

Research Interests: My research interests include: (1) the environmental psychology of the Internet, especially the ways in which qualities of virtual life affect people’s behavior and well-being; (2) the “science of team science,” including factors that influence the success of transdisciplinary research and training programs; (3) the health and behavioral impacts of environmental stressors such as traffic congestion, crowding, and information overload; (4) applications of environmental design research to urban planning and facilities design; and (5) the design and evaluation of community health promotion programs.

Faculty Profile: http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2450

Email: dstokols@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month
  
2018
2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011

2010
Dec. '10 Derek Dunn-Rankin
Nov. '10 Wendy A. Goldberg
Oct. '10 Bernard Choi
Sep. '10 Daniel S. Stokols
Aug. '10 James S. Nowick
Jul. '10 Thomas J. Carew
Jun. '10 Kristen Day
May. '10 Keith Woerpel
Apr. '10 Anshu Agrawal
Mar. '10 Darryl Taylor
Feb. '10 Michael J. Montoya
Jan. '10 Gregory Alan Weiss
  
2009