Professor Elizabeth Cauffman recognizes the vital role a faculty mentor can play in an undergraduate student’s education and future career. As a result, she has dedicated herself to creating opportunities in her lab for undergraduates to participate in her own research projects. Professor Cauffman looks for motivated and enthusiastic students who will dedicate themselves to learning as much as they can from their experience. By working with undergraduates, she has had an opportunity to grow herself, learning to recognize each student’s strengths and finding ways to bring out the best of their individual abilities. Professor Cauffman was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research from the School of Social Ecology in 2007 in recognition of her dedication to mentoring undergraduate researchers.

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

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis, I had a mentor who had a strong influence in shaping my academic future. Since that time, I have recognized the importance and value a professor can provide their students through a successful mentorship.

Each year our undergraduate students, in conjunction with the graduate students assigned to my lab, are allowed the opportunity to apply for funding through UROP. Our students have a proven track record of successfully being awarded grant funding through this program, which allows them to work with a graduate student and me on a research project they present at the UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium, and can potentially present at various academic conferences across the United States. For example, undergraduate students from my lab have presented at the American Psychological Association, the UCLA PURC conference, and the Western Psychological Association—just to name a few. Some of our more recent projects include the race and mental health problems of juvenile offenders as well as the differential experiences of youths in juvenile vs. adult court.

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

We are lucky enough to have a large group of students working in our Development, Delinquency & Disorder Lab (“3D Lab”). When we select students to work in our 3D Lab, we look for students who are motivated, enthusiastic, and have a strong interest in adolescent development, mental health, juvenile justice, and social policy. We expect our students not only to fulfill their required hours but also be dedicated to the success of current research studies, work well with other students in the lab on group projects and academic presentations, and be a significant contributor to ongoing projects.

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

I play an active role in mentoring the undergraduate students in the 3D Lab. We hold weekly meetings where we come together as a group and discuss not only current research studies they are involved in, but I also guide them in their group research projects and presentations. I am also actively involved in conducting training for my students in order for them to be fully prepared to be a part of ongoing research studies. I would say my style is critical, yet constructive. It is important to me that students in my 3D lab represent themselves at their best, whether it be presenting at an academic conference, or conducting interviews in the field.

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

In my experience mentoring students, I see the most improvement from the students who put the most effort into learning as much as they can from their experience in the 3D lab. My students in the 3D lab not only see benefits through their improvement in their research and presentation skills, but often times find a concrete career goal or focus for their graduate education by their active participation in research studies and presentations. Whether it be pursuing a graduate degree or securing employment, I have had the privilege of seeing many of my past students go on to successful careers when they leave the 3D lab.

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

One of the main benefits I derive from guiding undergraduate research projects is getting to know my students better than I would in only a classroom setting. I have learned through guiding and mentoring students to recognize their different strengths, and try to bring out the best of their individual abilities. By encouraging my students to challenge themselves in improving their writing, research, and presentation skills, I feel rewarded in the fact they are better prepared to pursue their academic or employment goals when leaving the 3D lab.

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

I would advise any student embarking on undergraduate research or a creative project to choose a professor and/or research project based on their interest. UCI is fortunate to have a multitude of professors conducting cutting-edge research studies on a wide variety of topics, allowing for many varied opportunities for undergraduate students who are interested in gaining research experience. These research opportunities are invaluable ways to gain experience necessary when pursuing graduate studies or to help students decide on a potential career path.

Research Interests: Adolescent development, mental health, psychopathy, juvenile justice, female delinquency, and legal and social policy

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '12 James C. Earthman
Nov. '12 Kenneth J. Shea
Oct. '12 Jeanett Castellanos
Sep. '12 Barry Siegel
Aug. '12 Martha L. Mecartney
Jul. '12 Brandon Brown
Jun. '12 Wayne Sandholtz
May. '12 Farghalli A. Mohamed
Apr. '12 Susan T. Charles
Mar. '12 Katherine Faust
Feb. '12 Donald R. Blake
Jan. '12 Elizabeth Cauffman