For Professor Andrea Nicholas, research gives undergraduates an opportunity to become passionately excited about their education. By delving into a project, students experience first-hand the process of turning new results into compelling new questions. Mentoring undergraduates also gives Professor Nicholas insights into better ways of teaching. UROP is pleased to recognize Professor Nicholas for her commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers at UC Irvine.

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

As I am a Teaching Professor, I work very closely with undergraduate students and consider their future success my highest priority. I started mentoring undergraduate students when I realized that some of the ongoing STEM education projects sitting on my desktop could also provide valuable research experiences. Research became yet another opportunity to educate. My projects focus on improving learning experiences in biology courses. At the moment, I have two undergraduate students investigating the ways “minority status” relates to student self-perception in non-majors courses for UROP.

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

I try to give any student who wants to participate in research a shot at a project. The wonderful thing about the kind of research I do is that it doesn’t cost me anything but a little time and effort. Any student, regardless of GPA or experience, can walk in my office and start on some education research. I think that first show of initiative and confidence, walking in the office and having a conversation, is the hardest part. Often students find that research is a bigger challenge or time commitment than they thought it would be. I feel that a student who doesn’t complete a project has still learned more about their individual interests and priorities for having tried. The students who stick it out and do the hard work will learn how it feels to present their findings and hopefully publish.

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

As a Teaching Professor, my priority is supporting UCI’s undergraduate students and facilitating their future success. I probably have a lot more time to spend mentoring undergraduate students one on one than most research faculty, who are busy supporting labs, postdocs and graduate students. I like to hold weekly meetings with the students I mentor to plan projects, analyze results and discuss findings.

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

Students involved with undergraduate research learn how all of the stages of an investigation are interconnected. You can present stunning research findings to a student in a lecture hall all quarter long, but it won’t give them that feeling of desperately wanting to go back and ask a new question immediately after analyzing the initial data. They catch fire. They stop in your office frustrated that someone already published their amazing idea. They get passionate about their research topic. When their eyes light up, you know their life moving forward is going to be a whole lot brighter because of it.

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

I used to think research was a process that revealed important knowledge that was previously unknown. As a postdoc, I’d have said the hallmark of a great research paper was elegant methods that led to findings with enormous impact value. As an instructor, I realize that regardless of the findings, student exposure to research provides a skill set that changes their approach to life. Research opportunities promote critical thinking, helping students to identify, test and analyze any problem they might face going forward, large or small. Research experiences can change the world even when the immediate findings don’t.

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

I would say “Come on by my office and let’s talk!”

Research Interests: The process of learning and memory as it relates to the method and practice of teaching.

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '18 Judy Tzu-Chun Wu
Nov. '18 Justyna M. Sosna
Oct. '18 Chen Li
Sep. '18 Shahrdad Lotfipour
Aug. '18 Zoe Klemfuss
Jul. '18 Patrick Rafter
Jun. '18 Kelli Sharp
May. '18 Gilverto Q. Conchas
Apr. '18 Ozdal Boyraz
Mar. '18 Amal Alachkar
Feb. '18 Andrea Nicholas
Jan. '18 Wenqi Wang