I have mentored seven undergraduate research students over the past three years, all of whom have been co-authors on scientific papers and conference abstracts. In my view, their success had less to do with their academic prowess or even my mentoring abilities, and more to do with their preparation before engaging in research (see also J. Ankrum Nature http://doi.org/gdwps2; 2018; and J. Trant Nature 560, 307; 2018).
These students had previously taken courses that were largely enquiry-based. They participated in multi-part projects or case studies — for example, collaborating over several class periods to address a specific problem. They were given real data sets to sharpen their analytical skills. In these projects, formidable obstacles were put in their way to stimulate awareness of thought processes (metacognition), a useful faculty when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and unpredictability in research results.
This classroom training in teamwork, critical analysis of the literature and reasoning like researchers helps to equip undergraduate students for the research lab, so that they can start contributing to its productivity from the outset.
Nature 561, 177 (2018)