Some may believe that research and teaching are mutually exclusive responsibilities within academia (see Coate et al., 2001 for a review). However, leading research labs is a necessary part of the job description for faculty at many institutions, and many produce creative and innovative scholarly products with their collaborators, including graduate and/or undergraduate students. Undergraduate research, in particular, has been identified as a high-impact educational practice that produces many benefits for both students and research mentors (e.g., Madan & Teitge, 2013; Russel et al., 2007; Wayman et al., 2008). Some of these research experiences are situated in courses (i.e., course-embedded undergraduate research experiences or CUREs; e.g., Saucier & Martens, 2015; Saucier et al., 2020), but much of it is not.
We believe the principles we employ when teaching our classes can (and should!) be applied to our research mentoring. Throughout this article, we will refer to our research collaborators, including the students and colleagues we mentor in our research lab, as our “research partners.” We advocate for supporting our research partners in our research labs through our research supervision, and in our research collaborations. More specifically, we support our research partners in their having valuable and positive experiences in the research we conduct together by establishing and maintaining engagement and connection in our research labs. Our research labs should be spaces in which we use our research as a vehicle for our collective personal and professional development. Ultimately, we argue that the ways that we infuse PEACE and empathy in our classes can be easily extended to our research labs through our mentoring and research practices.
PEACE and empathy
We recommend bringing PEACE and empathy to our research labs. PEACE is an acronym that refers to Preparation, Expertise, Authenticity, Caring, and Engagement. We have previously made the case that bringing PEACE to our classes will facilitate teaching and learning (Saucier, 2019a; Saucier, 2022; Saucier & Jones, 2020), and have argued and empirically shown that our bringing engagement as instructors in our classes will inspire our students’ own engagement and improve their learning through “trickle-down engagement” (Saucier 2019b; Saucier et al., 2022). Ultimately, when instructors bring PEACE to their classes through their teaching personas, students’ success and learning are better supported. Empathy, an extension of the Caring component of PEACE, is a genuine awareness of others’ thoughts and feelings (e.g., Elliott et al. 2011). Recently, we started implementing what we call the “Empathetic Course Design Perspective” (see Saucier et al., under review) in which we describe how to infuse empathy into all aspects of our courses (e.g., syllabi, course structure, policies, assignments, and assessments). This overarching perspective is also relevant for our research and mentoring practices, and we believe that bringing PEACE and empathy to our research labs is something we can do by design and intention to improve the experiences of our research partners and ourselves. Below we provide five specific ways through which we bring PEACE and empathy to our research labs:
1. We respect our research partners and their contributions
Our research partners are more than pairs of hands. They bring creativity, insights, and diverse perspectives that make our research labs better and more productive. We remind ourselves, and regularly tell our undergraduate and graduate research partners, that the only thing that separates us from them is a few years of education and experience. We are not inherently smarter, more creative, or cooler. To demonstrate this, we genuinely use terms like “research collaborator” or “research partner,” rather than “research assistant.” We also believe this helps them take more pride in and ownership of their work in producing scholarly research.
2. We streamline our research lab processes
We avoid unnecessary bureaucracy in our research practices and avoid bogging our research partners down in unnecessary busy work. We keep research reports and updates as short as they need to be. We make sure that all tasks are important and promote our research productivity and/or the personal and professional development of our research partners. We are clear and reasonable about the value and necessity of our research tasks and practices.
3. We are empathetic to our research partners’ life circumstances
We recognize that our research labs are not the only priorities or responsibilities in the lives of our research partners. We are empathetic in setting meeting times, deadlines, etc. When we can, we allow our research partners to set their own schedules and deadlines. We invite our research partners to share their individual needs with us, and we are responsive to these needs. We have empathetic meetings in which we set streamlined agendas, build community among our research partners, and respect the time and schedules of our research partners (for more specific recommendations about empathetic meetings, see Engage the Sage, 2022). To further empathize with the needs of our research partners, we also try to be relatable people ourselves. Our research partners do not want to learn with or from brilliant robots with whom they cannot relate. We intentionally demonstrate our authenticity as people and that we care about our research partners and their personal and professional development.
4. We share our challenges and failures
Extending our desire to be authentic and relatable, we seek to normalize failure with our research partners. To be clear, we do not promote failure as the goal, but acknowledge its inevitability in the research process. Even when good work and time are invested, research projects sometimes fail, manuscripts get rejected, and grants go unfunded. Further, graduate school and job applications get rejected. We share our own experiences with failure in these domains (even tracking statistics of our rejections for manuscript submissions; see Engage the Sage, 2021) to help our students understand that failure is part of the process of success and to combat the imposter phenomenon (see Parkman, 2016). We share our challenges and failures with our research partners to help us connect with them and to support their learning, personal and professional development, and success. We believe sharing our failures with our research partners in a safe environment prepares them to persevere through the failures we all face.
5. We demonstrate our gratitude
We express our gratitude to our research partners authentically and are specific about what we are grateful for. We believe that genuine appreciation and expressions of gratitude do not happen enough in academia in any domain (e.g., teaching, research, mentoring, administration). Consistent with our Empathetic Course Design Perspective (see Saucier et al., under review) that we use when teaching, we think it is equally important to demonstrate PEACE and empathy in our research labs. In fact, it may even be easier to express our gratitude toward our research partners specifically given the often more personal nature of this collaboration compared to traditional in-class instructor-student dynamics.
Teaching is oftentimes not an isolated responsibility within academia (Coate et al., 2001), and we choose to infuse empathy not only in our classes, but also in our research labs. Specifically, we believe that we should work to bring PEACE and empathy to our research labs and to our research partners with authenticity and intention. We believe doing so creates lab spaces in which we can simultaneously promote research productivity, our collective personal and professional development, and fulfilling and positive experiences. We hope that you will adopt our perspective to help bring PEACE and empathy to your research labs.
Donald A. Saucier, PhD, (2001, University of Vermont) is a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar and professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University. Saucier has published more than 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and is a Fellow of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, and the Midwestern Psychological Association. His awards and honors include the University Distinguished Faculty Award for Mentoring of Undergraduate Students in Research, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Teaching Resource Prize. Saucier is also the Faculty Associate Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at Kansas State University and offers a YouTube channel called “Engage the Sage” that describes his teaching philosophy, practices, and experiences.
Noah D. Renken is a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Kansas State University. His research interests center on individual difference factors related to expressions of prejudice. Renken’s recent work has examined masculine honor ideology and the manifestation of attitudes towards stigmatized events (e.g., sexual violence, trauma). Renken also works in the Teaching and Learning Center at Kansas State University, where he collaborates with Saucier on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) projects.
Ashley A. Schiffer is also a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Kansas State University. Her research often pertains to morality in relation to masculine honor ideology and/or military settings. She also works at Kansas State’s Teaching and Learning Center with Saucier and Renken to promote teaching excellence and contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning.
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Engage the Sage. (2021). Engage the sage: Teaching through failure [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/8Ak8kQxdrrI.
Engage the Sage. (2022). Engage the sage: Tips for empathetic meetings [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/QzdaPhYVdo0.
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Parkman, A. (2016). The imposter phenomenon in higher education: Incidence and impact. Journal of Higher Education Theory & Practice, 16(1).
Russell, S. H., Hancock, M. P., & McCullough, J. (2007). Benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science, 316(5824), 548-549.
Saucier, D. A. 2019a. “Bringing PEACE to the Classroom.”Faculty Focus: Effective Teaching Strategies, Philosophy of Teaching. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/bringing-peace-to-the-classroom/
Saucier, D. A. 2019b. “‘Having The Time of My Life’: The Trickle-Down Model of Self and Student Engagement.” ACUECommunity. https://community.acue.org/blog/having-the-time-of-my-life-the-trickle-down-model-of-self-and-student-engagement/
Saucier, D. A. (2022). Bringing PEACE to support all students. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2022/02/23/professors-should-learn-about-respond-students-unique-experiences-opinion
Saucier, D. A., and Jones, T. L. 2020. “Leading Our Classes Through Times of Crisis with Engagement and PEACE.” Faculty Focus: Online Education, Philosophy of Teaching. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/leading-our-classes-through-times-of-crisis-with-engagement-and-peace/
Saucier, D. A., Jones, T. L., Martens, A. L., & Schneider, T. (2020). Using undergraduate research projects to achieve the student learning outcomes in first-year learning communities. In A. M. Schwartz & R. L. Miller (Eds.), High impact educational practices: A review of best practices with illustrative examples (pp. 382–402). Society for the Teaching of Psychology.
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