Professor Katherine Faust had a fabulous experience as an undergraduate researcher, and wishes all students could be similarly engaged and inspired as a part of their education. She looks to mentor students who are curious about a range of topics and who have the initiative to explore where that curiosity leads them. Professor Faust describes herself as a fairly hands-off mentor, one who expects her students to follow their own instincts but who is available to suggest questions they might not have thought to ask. She recognizes the challenges that research poses, but believes that all students can benefit from pursuing a research experience. In recognition of her dedication to the students she has mentored, Professor Faust was awarded the 2011 Chancellorís Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research for the School of Social Sciences.

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

As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to have a fabulous mentor, anthropologist Ralph Bolton. For my senior thesis project, Professor Bolton gave me free rein to analyze extensive data he had collected in Peru on folk classification of potato varieties. It was the perfect project for me because it involved learning statistics and mathematical modeling in order to understand patterns in the data. I wish all undergraduates could have a similarly engaging research experience.

Most of the undergraduate research projects I direct involve collection of survey or interview data on social network processes, such as organizational recruitment, formation of teams, or the process of social influence.

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

I look for students who are curious about a range of topics and who are looking for guidance as they pursue their research interests. I expect them to work hard, and I expect them to extend their investigations well beyond the pointers I give them.

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

I am actually a fairly hands-off mentor. I try to make myself available and give the best advice I can, but students have to take the initiative to ask. As a studentís research develops, I try to point out lines of inquiry that the student might not have considered, and then let them follow leads that they think are most fruitful or interesting.

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

Extended engagement in a research project is a quite different from the usual classroom experience. Through doing research, students gain a real sense of accomplishmentóthey have selected their own topic, reviewed relevant literature, navigated obstacles in conducting the research, made sense of the results, and communicated their findings in a research paper or oral presentation. Research can be challenging, but I donít know any student who regretted the experience.

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

I have learned to be flexible in the research topics I mentor. I have also learned to help students strategize about alternatives when unexpected setbacks occur (as they inevitably do).

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

If a topic sparks your interest, follow up outside of class with some reading on your own. Talk with faculty about their research (you can find lots of information about faculty research on departmental websites). Take advantage of faculty office hours or set up an appointment to discuss your shared research interests. Have the confidence to pursue topics that interest you, but donít pass up a chance to do research, regardless of the topic.

Research Interests: Social networks; mathematical models for social network structure and process; comparative social organization; animal social networks; effects of population and demographic processes on social relations

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