Dr. Samuel Gilmore is committed to having the students he mentors go through the discovery process, while offering just enough oversight to keep them on track. Working as an undergraduate with several mentors who had radically different approaches to research has given Dr. Gilmore an appreciation for the unusual and unique insights his students bring to their own research. Over the last twenty years, he has mentored many individual students who have gone on to elite graduate programs, law schools and business schools. In addition to his work with the Sociology Honors Program, he sits on the Undergraduate Committee for the Sociology Dept. and has served several terms on the IRB. He has received several teaching awards and in 2005 he received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research. Dr. Gilmore also serves on the UROP Faculty Advisory Board.

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

When I first started teaching at UC Irvine (over twenty plus years ago…ahem); the size of the UCI undergraduate student body was about six or seven thousand, with only about 200 Sociology majors. I would talk with my colleagues about the benefits of small seminars and individual mentoring for undergraduate education and often the question came up about how the department/university was going to handle the expected growth of the campus and still maintain these benefits. Well, the growth came even faster than we expected and for faculty who shared my philosophy, it became a protracted struggle to try to manage significant face-to-face contact with individual students while at the same time fulfilling our teaching responsibilities in the context of ever increasing class size and student-teacher ratios. I made it my business to try to preserve a small school approach to undergraduate education at UCI. In doing so, I helped launch the Sociology Department’s Honors Thesis Program in 1992 and have continued to administer and teach in the program since its inception. Each year, one or two mentees complete an Honors Thesis under my specific direction, but I need to mention that without the full fledged cooperation of all the Sociology faculty who step forward as individual mentors for each of the twelve to fifteen students in the cohort it would not be possible for the Sociology Honors program to flourish as well as it has.

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

Obviously I look for bright students with whom to work, but the critical factor is usually how motivated and well organized the students are in developing research interests that can be narrowed into a doable research project. The Honors Program starts in the Fall of the academic year and finishes at the end of the Spring Quarter. That’s just nine months and my mentees and I quickly find out just how short that period can be in regards to the research process. The goal is to complete an article length thesis (about thirty pages), based on data the students have collected and/or have analyzed through secondary resources.

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

As a mentor, I help direct the work, but I am committed to having my students go through the discovery process of learning to interpret their data in light of their own research questions and to develop insights into the many ways that theory and data are jointly examined. I was fortunate to study under graduate mentors at Northwestern University who had radically different approaches to doing science; from the ethnographically grounded “dirt under the fingernails” approach of Howard S. Becker to the equally empirical but highly structured experimental approach of social psychologist Donald T. Campbell. Fortunately I was also often privy to their conversations about epistemological and methodological strategies and the obvious respect they had for each other’s scientific accomplishments. I became a firm believer in multi-method research and as a teacher and researcher have consistently tried to pass along the virtues of methodological triangulation and convergent validity to my own students. It is a pleasure to watch students go through the “aha” experience of working through the details of scientific inference and to see the accompanying intellectual self confidence emerge.

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

There are numerous benefits to the undergraduate research experience. In addition to the blossoming of cognitive reasoning skills and the self confidence noted above, the development of critical thinking, a tremendous increase in writing skills and just the discipline and focus that complement the process of getting a large, multi-stage project from proposal to manuscript demonstrates that the students have what it takes to succeed in graduate school or other forms of professional education. This not only becomes apparent to the mentor, but also to the mentee him/herself. For my mentees, the research experience is the door to elite graduate training. And this process is even more apparent for first generation college students from an immigrant or otherwise underprivileged background.

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

Many of my best honors students don’t realize the tremendous benefits of undertaking an Honors thesis until they experience it themselves. In addition, many of our best students don’t “self select” themselves into applying for admission to the Honors program. They initially see research as too time consuming or something for which they don’t have the aptitude. Often we as faculty have to recruit students into the program. But I can honestly say that I have never heard students express disappointment in the experience after the completion of their Honors research project.

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

Participating in a faculty directed research project is the ideal way of finishing off your undergraduate educational experience. Start getting to know individual faculty with whom you might potentially work early in your undergraduate career. Go to class, go to talks, go to the office hours of your instructors, that is, make contact with potential mentors. If possible, try to take independent studies or join the research team of faculty in which you are interested. You may find you’ve just made the most important decision of your professional life.

Email: sgilmore@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '11 Louis DeSipio
Nov. '11 Anthony A. James
Oct. '11 Tiffany Willoughby-Herard
Sep. '11 Angela Lukowski
Aug. '11 Petra Wilder-Smith
Jul. '11 Ron D. Frostig
Jun. '11 Sunny Jiang
May. '11 Samuel L. Gilmore
Apr. '11 Sally Dickerson
Mar. '11 Shahram Lotfipour
Feb. '11 Mark Steyvers
Jan. '11 Benjamin F. Villac