Authentic computer science undergraduate research experience through computational science and research ownership

Research experience has been identified as a high-impact intervention for increasing student engagement and retention in STEM. However, authentic undergraduate research leading to primary authorship peer-reviewed publications is a challenge due to the relatively short time the students work on their capstone projects, and the insufficient preparation of the students as researchers. The challenge is further magnified in the field of computer science, where the absence of ``traditional'' labs limits the opportunities of undergraduate students to participate in research. Here we present a novel approach to authentic computer science undergraduate research, based on interdisciplinary computational science and student ownership of their research projects. Instead of the traditional role of undergraduate research assistant, the students select their own research topic based on their personal interests, and with the assistance of a faculty complete all stages of their research project. The uniqueness of the approach is its ability to lead to scientific discoveries and peer-reviewed publications such that the primary author is the student, while allowing the student to experience the entire research process, from defining the research question through analysis of the experimental results. In three years the model led to a dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students who publish primary-author peer-reviewed scientific papers. The intervention increased the number of peer-reviewed student-authored publications from none to a very high rate of about one third of the students, in many cases publishing in the top outlets in their field.