Guest Contributor: Britt Andreatta, MA, Ph.D.


When we teach college students about research, we have the opportunity—no, obligation—to develop them into life-long learners.

The mistake most instructors make is that they dive right in to the nuts and bolts of the research process and bypass the most important part—cultivating curiosity. When you think about it, research is one of the many tools we use to satisfy our curiosity. Dian Fossey was curious about gorillas and Stephen Hawking is curious about space. All humans have an innate need to learn and that’s what we want to fuel in our students.

When I teach research skills, I first start with the students’ passion. I ask them to focus on something that’s really meaningful to them. It doesn’t matter if it seems “academic” or not—we’ll get to that part soon enough. Perhaps it’s something about their heritage. Perhaps they love a certain rock band or they want to travel to a far-off location. Maybe they even have a budding business idea. All that matters is that it’s personally compelling to them in some way.

Next, I introduce them to the “3 levels of Research”:

The first level is introductory exploration. The Internet makes this very easy. A quick search using popular search engines or encyclopedias and you’re off  to the races. I ask students to first explore their topic using whatever easy links they find on the web and they bring these back to class.

The next level is finding credible sources. We discuss how to separate good information from the questionable. I prefer to show, not tell, so in class I bring up my own blog and I demonstrate how easy it is for anyone to put something out there. This usually gets their attention.

We talk about how certain sources, like scholarly journals, are refereed by top researchers. We look at the difference between independent media and media outlets owned by big conglomerates. And we review how certain websites, like TED or, curate the presenters.

I send them back to their topic to find credible sources and we have a great discussion about how this changed what they learned. We also talk about how much of their academic work in college relies on this second level of research, being able to search and correctly cite credible sources.

Now they are ready for the third level, to conduct original research. Sometimes your curiosity goes beyond finding out what other people know and you have to make your own discoveries. Being at a top research university, it’s very easy for me to highlight some of our famous faculty, including Nobel Prize winners, and how their curiosity has led them to careers as professional researchers.

I introduce them to common research methods, both qualitative and quantitative, discussing the pros of and cons of each. We also delve into what makes studies legitimate, like sample size and validity. I love to include a faculty panel in class as well.

Finally, we send students back to their topic to either formulate their own study or find academic research done on their topic. We also discuss how their majors will introduce them to more research focused on that particular discipline.

By teaching students research skills, we not only help them to succeed academically in college, we develop them into curious citizens who are critical thinkers. And we certainly could use more of those in the world.


Dr. Britt Andreatta knows how to harness the most of human potential. Drawing on her unique background in leadership, psychology, education, and the human sciences, she has a profound understanding of how humans are wired. 

Her groundbreaking “Potential Paradigm” shifts the way people think about human biology and helps you the harness the best in yourself, others, and organizations. 

Britt strongly believes that most organizations are set up in ways that actually block people from reaching their potential. We ignore our biological wiring to survive and belong, and in doing so, undermine our ability to become our best. Her recent TEDx talk, “How Your Past Hijacks Your Future” illustrates her keen insights.

Britt is a seasoned professional with over 25 years consulting, coaching and teaching. Drawing on her research and experience working with businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations, she creates powerful solutions to today’s most pressing workplace problems.

She is the author of six titles on leadership at, inc., including Leading with Emotional Intelligence, Having Difficult Conversations, and Leading Change. She currently serves as the Director of Learning and Development and was recently chosen as a top-3 finalist for the prestigious Chief Learning Officer magazine Trailblazer Award.

Dr. Andreatta has served as a faculty member and dean at the University of California, Antioch University, and teaches at several graduate programs. She is the author of Navigating the Research University: a guide for first-year students (3rd ed), a textbook that helps students succeed in college.

A highly sought-after speaker, Britt is known for engaging audiences with her insightful content and humor, as well as sharing practical tools for transformation. Learn more at


How do you teach research and spark curiosity in your courses? Discuss your ideas and strategies below.