Students can engage in undergraduate research experiences (UREs) in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in many different ways, to varying degrees, and across a variety of settings.1 UREs themselves are heterogeneous and vary in leadership, mentoring, format, and duration. They vary in expectations for students, value for career trajectory, goals and outcome measures, and population served. Institutional support, disciplinary and multidisciplinary expectations, and faculty motivation and rewards also differ. As a result, UREs vary widely even within the same institution.
Outcomes that students gain from UREs are shaped by how the experiences are constructed by faculty and supported by the academic department(s) and institution, by professional organizations in some disciplines, and by external policy and funding structures at the state and national level. Student characteristics may affect the design of the program or the outcomes for the students themselves. A broad goal beyond simply student persistence in STEM would be for students to develop not only conceptual understanding of relevant disciplinary and/or multidisciplinary knowledge, but also the abilities to conduct an investigation and develop STEM literacy. For some UREs, the goal might be to have students persist in a STEM discipline, but for other UREs the goal may be to have students become an informed citizen
1 This chapter includes content from papers commissioned by the committee titled Strengthening Research Experiences for Undergraduate STEM Students: The Co-Curricular Model of the Research Experience by Linda Blockus (Blockus, 2016) and Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences: Current Knowledge and Future Directions by Erin Dolan (Dolan, 2016).
and a savvy consumer of STEM information, in order to know how to make informed decisions based on the strength of evidence.
In developing a definition for UREs, the committee considered the diverse types of programs available and synthesized descriptions from reports throughout the literature to arrive at a way to describe UREs. The Council on Undergraduate Research defines undergraduate research as “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.”2 Faculty associated with the group CUREnet proposed a definition of a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) that requires the integration of five dimensions: use of scientific practices, discovery, broadly relevant or important work, collaboration, and iteration (Auchincloss et al., 2014). Building on the work of that group, the committee included those five dimensions in our definition of a URE (the first five bullets below). Four additional characteristics are also included in the committee’s definition in order to broaden the scope to include UREs that are not CUREs and to be inclusive of all STEM disciplines.
In preparing this list, the committee considered which aspects of an experience would allow a URE to more closely align with the work of research professionals, while keeping in mind that this work varies across the many STEM disciplines. Due to the variation in the types of UREs, not all experiences will include all of the following characteristics in the same way; experiences vary in how much a particular characteristic is emphasized. The committee includes the following characteristics in our definition of a URE:
- They engage students in research practices including the ability to argue from evidence.
- They aim to generate novel information with an emphasis on discovery and innovation or to determine whether recent preliminary results can be replicated.
- They focus on significant, relevant problems of interest to STEM researchers and, in some cases, a broader community (e.g., civic engagement).
- They emphasize and expect collaboration and teamwork.
- They involve iterative refinement of experimental design, experimental questions, or data obtained.
- They allow students to master specific research techniques.
- They help students engage in reflection about the problems being investigated and the work being undertaken to address those problems.
- They require communication of results, either through publication or presentations in various STEM venues.
2 See http://www.cur.org/about_cur/frequently_asked_questions_ [November 2016].
- They are structured and guided by a mentor, with students assuming increasing ownership of some aspects of the project over time.
Auchincloss and colleagues (2014) pointed out that many of the individual characteristics listed can be found in courses that are not UREs, but it is the integration of these characteristics that makes the experience a URE. For example, a course focused on reviewing published articles may expose students to the way that research is performed and communicated, but not engage them in doing research themselves. A research methods course may teach the details of specific procedures without engaging the students in an actual research project. A course may contain a component for which undergraduates perform experiments in the laboratory, but these tasks may be done in a predetermined step-wise manner, sometimes called a “cookbook laboratory” (Brownell and Kloser, 2015), that requires little problem solving or analysis on the part of the student.
UREs can be designed to meet the needs of undergraduate students at various career stages and from various backgrounds; some of the characteristics listed above may be more crucial for certain learning objectives or for specific populations of students. The degree to which the characteristics are emphasized for an individual URE varies depending on many factors (e.g., discipline, goals for students, time, resources) and the emphasis on a particular characteristic may also change over time within a single URE. For example, developing technical skills and knowledge is often a focus in early research learning experiences, while opportunities to learn how to deal with failure and develop resiliency tend to emerge as students get more deeply involved in a research project. Ideally, formative assessment by research mentors, program directors, and instructors can be used to monitor student development and achievement throughout the experience and to make appropriate adjustments along the way.
Many different names have been used to describe types of UREs. These names vary across disciplines and are not used consistently in practice or in the literature. To help demonstrate the wide variety of experiences that have developed, this chapter groups UREs into the following types:
- Individual faculty research group (apprentice-style);
- Capstone experiences and senior theses;
- Internships and co-ops;
- Wrap-around experiences;
- Bridge programs;
- Consortium/project-based programs; and
- Community-based research programs.
There are several attributes—duration, costs, research topic, mentoring, student expectations—of UREs that can have significant impact on the quality of and access to the URE. These attributes have been identified in several recent reports (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2011; National Research Council, 2006, 2007, 2012; Next Generation Science Standards Lead States, 2013) and are summarized in Table 2-1, where they are presented as a series of questions with possible answers to be considered when designing UREs. A more nuanced discussion on many of these questions and their answers follow the table.
An important component of the URE is the research mentor and the role the mentor plays. In UREs, students often work in groups under the supervision of a mentor. Positive mentoring relationships can expose students to the culture of STEM, and mentorship is one of the aspects of UREs that may promote students’ identities as STEM professionals. Mentorship refers to a relationship between a seasoned, experienced person—the mentor—and a less experienced person—the protégé (Rhodes, 2005). Within the context of
TABLE 2-1 Questions About the Attributes of UREs
|Who is the research mentor?||
|What roles might the mentor(s) play?||
|For how many students is each mentor responsible?||
|How long is the research experience?||
|Is the student compensated and if so how?||
|How are students recruited to participate?||
|What costs are associated with offering UREs, and who pays them?||
|How is the research topic selected?||
|What, if any, presentation requirements for students are there?||
|What other factors impact UREs?||
this relationship, there is an expectation that the protégé will develop professionally under the guidance of the mentor (Eby et al., 2007). Substantial variability exists not only for who serves as the mentor but also with respect to the number of mentors a given student might have, as well as the contributions that the mentors provide throughout the research experience. For example, the research question might be designed with the principal investigator for the project; however, many of the daily mentoring functions may be carried out by a postdoctoral fellow, graduate student, or lab manager with oversight by the principal investigator (Russell et al., 2009). Mentors provide instrumental support by providing resources and opportunity to the protégé to engage in goal attainment (Kram, 1985) and psychosocial support when a mentor enhances “an individual’s sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness in a professional role” (Kram, 1985, p. 32). Relationship quality has been shown to be related to positive mentorship outcomes. Issues related to mentorship are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.
Students can be compensated for their participation through primarily two different mechanisms: stipend (salary or hourly wage), academic credit, or both. Stipends are typically provided for summer research experiences and academic-year extensions of those experiences. When the experience is part of the curriculum, the student is more likely to receive academic credit than a stipend. The need for student compensation is intimately connected to program costs and sustainability. Student stipends are often provided by external funding, providing an opportunity for faculty grant leadership but also introducing a threat to the sustainability of the program. Credit-based courses may be easier to sustain but also impose costs on the student, faculty, and institution. Additional costs may include faculty and staff salaries, lab space and materials, travel to and housing at the research site, and travel to conferences for students’ presentations.
The focus of research in a URE can be driven by faculty preferences, departmental or institutional constraints, or student interest; it may also be influenced by the direction of research in the disciplinary field. In apprentice-style UREs and some long-term CUREs, the topic of research is typically aligned with the faculty member’s or instructor’s program of research and is often supported on some level by the faculty member’s grants. Advanced undergraduate research students may progress to develop their own research questions but would typically remain in the same general area of research as their advisor. CUREs of one- or two-semester duration are
also frequently related to the faculty member’s area of research, but they are more likely to differ, particularly when a faculty member’s research topic is not optimal for undergraduates due to a lack of facilities or the students’ limited background knowledge. Divergence from the mentor’s area of research can also occur when CUREs build on pre-existing examples developed on another campus. In some cases these CUREs become part of a network that provides resources, or even training, for faculty on the approach and subject. A student’s research topic can also be influenced by a need to meet requirements of the student’s major or program—for example, a capstone course required by the accreditation requirements in an engineering department.
Presentation of Research
Many experiences replicate the dissemination mechanisms of STEM researchers by offering the opportunity, or requiring students, to make presentations and prepare publications. As addressed in Chapter 4, being able to describe not only the methods one uses but also the importance of the research question situated within the field has been linked with improved learning outcomes and with development of the student’s identity as a STEM professional. Many forms of UREs, including both independent UREs and CUREs (described in the next section), typically embed delivery of posters and/or presentations within the experience, often as a culminating event that involves presenting to the program’s faculty, staff, and participants. For example, many institutions hold annual on-campus research conferences to celebrate student research. These conferences may be scheduled to maximize attention to the undergraduate research on campus (e.g., a conference held on alumni weekends, during visits by prospective students, or even during trustee meetings). In some cases, students are encouraged to present at a professional society conference, exposing them to the broader STEM enterprise and to peers and graduate students from other institutions. Many professional societies have a funding mechanism to which undergraduate students can apply and which will subsidize their travel expenses. Moreover, students also may develop manuscripts for submission or may be included in publications as a coauthor with others, depending on the research group’s policies.
As characterized in Chapter 3, the type of institution can have a substantial impact on the types of UREs offered. Some institutions might have UREs as a prominent feature of undergraduate education for all students, whereas for other institutions only a select few may have the opportunity
to participate in a URE. Moreover, there could be differences in the availability of resources (e.g., space, equipment, libraries, journal access) across different institutions. Relying upon national networks, including disciplinary and educational societies, could help facilitate a “community of practice” enabling institutions with limited resources to develop and refine existing practices.
Department and Academic Program
The access to and attributes of UREs may also differ across departments on a single campus, as discussed in Chapter 3. Some departments have a disciplinary history or local tradition of offering or requiring undergraduates to do research or requiring students to do a senior capstone project that includes research and/or design as part of accreditation (e.g., engineering departments accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology [ABET]).
Departmental decisions not only have an impact on faculty expectations and course assignments (discussed in greater detail in Chapter 6), but also can impact undergraduates’ access to research experiences. Departments that encourage faculty to take actions that embed research experiences into the curriculum through the use of independent studies, credit-bearing summer research programs, academic year seminars, and CUREs may increase the number of students who participate in UREs (Free et al., 2015). Many scholars have reported on models for integrating research experience into the curriculum (Gates et al., 1999; Hakim, 2000; Kierniesky, 2005; Kortz and van der Hoeven Kraft, 2016; Lopatto et al., 2014; Merkel, 2001; Pukkila et al., 2007; Reinen et al., 2007; Rueckert, 2007; Temple et al., 2010).
Students who participate in research experiences should be aware of the importance of ethics and responsible conduct, and some UREs provide students with this type of training. In some instances, this training can be embedded within the research experience, whereas other programs might require this training before participation in the URE can begin. The literature has suggested that although ethics training may be a requirement for students to engage in research, it can have the added benefit of helping students to better understand the importance of ethical awareness. For example, Hirsch and colleagues (2005) reported on a summer URE that was part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Engineering Research Center in Bioengineering. The objective of the study was to examine the results of core competency instruction in ethics and communications as they were integrated in students’ research experiences outside of formal courses. Students were presented with case studies, and the results showed that they developed greater ethical awareness of key concepts, such as respect for persons (informed consent), beneficence, justice, and integrity.
UREs do not fit neatly into discrete categories. As stated above, they contain the definitional characteristics the committee described above to some degree. That is, some UREs might place a higher premium on collaborative teamwork, whereas others place less of an emphasis on this characteristic and instead devote significant time to improving presentation skills (Russell et al., 2009). Moreover, students may participate in multiple UREs during their undergraduate education, but there is not a consensus around a clear progression of the types of experiences a student should have. Given this variability, it can be challenging to organize and catalogue the different programs and systematically collect data on the students who participate in UREs. This lack of data collection can be observed not only at a national level but also at an institutional level. Box 2-1 summarizes the challenges encountered by one university official in his efforts to determine how many students participated in UREs at the University of California, Davis.
Moreover, UREs can vary on other dimensions, such as the size of the research group or the timing of when the research project might take place. For example, individual or small group experiences typically fall under the purview of apprentice-style research projects, with a few students working with an individual faculty member, as compared to group-oriented UREs in which undergraduates are organized into teams of moderate to significant size to enable more students to benefit from participation in research. Whether the design of the URE is more apprentice-style (one or several students who work mainly as individuals) or more group-based, these experiences can be offered during the academic year or outside of the academic year, with many programs spanning this particular dimension.
Summer bridge programs, like other summer URE programs, are offered outside of the academic year but are shorter than a full year. However, summer bridge programs are more likely to be group-based, whereas summer URE programs cover a wide variety of program styles ranging from group-based efforts to students working independently within a research environment (e.g., a faculty member’s lab or field opportunity, an industry setting). CUREs are more likely to be offered within the academic year (or even over multiple academic years, depending on the nature of the research question and project) and range in size from classes that have smaller groups to larger programs. Finally, internships are more likely to involve independent work in an industrial or corporate setting.
What we present next are brief descriptions of several of the more commonly used types of UREs, with examples of each type from actual URE programs. This discussion is meant not as an exhaustive list but as an illustration of the variability of programs, depending on the intended goals of the experience and its other attributes. The examples provided for each program type were chosen to cover the range of different settings and disciplines. Appendix B contains additional examples of UREs.
Individual Faculty Research Group
A common pathway to research is for students to begin working on a part-time basis in a faculty research lab or team and to work for a semester or more to “learn the ropes” before taking ownership of advanced responsibilities. Faculty may pair inexperienced students with an intermediary supervisor, such as a graduate student or lab technician, for day-to-day training. Although some students develop their research skills and independence over an extended period of time, other students (visiting summer interns, for example) may enter a research environment with previous experience and have a shorter and steeper learning curve. This approach to situational and observational learning in the context of a URE is sometimes labeled an “apprentice model.”
During the academic year, generally 10-15 hours per week is the standard expectation for the student to participate in the lab; however, full-time immersive summer programs are also pervasive and last between 8-12 weeks, during which the student typically works full-time on research. Students may earn credit, experience (voluntary basis), or receive monetary compensation (although some institutions have policies against students earning money and credit simultaneously). Moreover, students are expected to be engaged in the research process, including the dissemination of results whether by presenting at a national conference or publishing within a peer-reviewed journal.
Summer programs in this category are more typically funded by an extramural funding agency or by a host institution. These programs can be more formally structured and include a professional development program designed to support students as they progress through their research experience. For example, NSF supports a wide range of projects across the STEM subdisciplines through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs.3 Students typically apply for REUs through a competitive process so that they can spend the summer in a laboratory or at a field site (domestic or international) conducting research in their desired discipline. Box 2-2 describes a summer apprentice-style program in mathematics developed by Willamette University in Oregon.
Collaborations with industry and other government agencies can also be forged to develop and fund projects on a topic of mutual interest. For example, Box 2-3 highlights a URE program that is jointly funded by NSF and the Department of Defense to provide undergraduates with an opportunity to learn more about, and conduct research on, particular issues associated with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Capstone Experiences and Senior Theses
Capstone experiences not only can be a requirement for graduation but also are part of the accreditation of particular programs—for example, ABET accreditation for engineering programs.4 These experiences have been defined as “a culminating experience in which students are expected to integrate special studies with the major and extend, critique, and apply knowledge gained in their major” (Wagenaar, 1993, p. 209). Many of these programs occur during the senior year, with variability in administration: the course may be a single semester, a full academic year, or even interleaved
3 For more information on NSF’s REU initiative, see https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5517 [November 2016].
with cooperative education (co-op) or internship experiences (discussed next) in industry (Saad, 2007). In 2014, the Council on Undergraduate Research devoted an issue to capstone experiences to illustrate the classic role that these experiences play in undergraduate research.5 Moreover, there are several programs published in the literature that have found promising practices spanning topics such as chemistry (Kovac, 1991), electrical and computer engineering (Saad, 2007), civil engineering (Gnanapragasam, 2008; Hanna and Sullivan, 2005), and statistics (Spurrier, 2001). Box 2-4 highlights a few research topics from Olin College of Engineering that can serve as a capstone experience and illustrate the impact these experiences can have on real-world problems.
Internships and Co-ops
Internships and co-ops are professional experiences that often involve doing research, typically take place in the private sector, and are paid positions (usually at a rate commensurate with the student’s experience and the disciplinary field). The internship or co-op experience can be for a summer, a semester, or an academic year. Examples include positions working with
researchers in industry, at government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or at Federally Funded Research and Development Centers such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Although these experiences typically occur off campus, there are on-campus opportunities as well. These experiences may even be repeated—the same students with the same researcher—for a number of semesters or summers. UREs of this type are especially prevalent in engineering and technology fields. An institutional office frequently facilitates placement into the internship or co-op, and professional staff members in the office oversee evaluation of the learning experience.
Co-op programs are primarily based on partnerships between academic universities and private-sector companies. Students who participate in a co-
op program or internship often alternate between academic theory-based classroom learning and off-campus hands-on research experiences. Students apply classroom knowledge to work situations, gain knowledge, and develop skills that further clarify their academic focus and career interests. See Box 2-5 for an example of a cooperative education program developed at Northeastern University.
Co-ops and internships can be a bit more complicated than other types of UREs, as these opportunities are typically located off campus. That is, students need to be able to get to the research site and they need to fit the URE around their traditional courses or take a semester to focus exclusively on the co-op or internship. Moreover, there needs to be a mutual interest that is based on both the researchers’ interest in working with undergraduates and the possibility for the students to make at least modest contributions to the overall research effort. These experiences are also highly individualized, with the mentoring skills of the researchers involved playing an important role in the depth of the experience and the level of outcomes.
The primary costs of this type of URE are (1) the researchers’ time in mentoring the student or small team of students; (2) the cost of space and equipment needed to support the research experience of the student or small team of students; (3) the cost of a stipend for each student that is paid to participate, if payment for participation is an option; and (4) the administrative costs of matching students with researchers. Box 2-6 highlights the components in costs and mentoring at Drexel University for co-op experiences offered there.
Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences
In CUREs, students investigate novel research questions and therefore contribute new knowledge to the field. These courses can provide students with opportunities to engage in research in a more controlled fashion and are designed for cohorts of students, allowing faculty to engage large numbers of students in research projects at one time. They can also be scaled and adapted to fit the needs and resources across a variety of institutions. For example, the Genomics Education Partnership, sponsored by Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, and funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and NSF, organizes research projects and provides training/collaboration workshops for faculty from multiple institutions on an established curriculum in which students annotate sections of the Drosophila fruit fly genome.6
CUREs can be a required course in a discipline or a core elective. These experiences can be multidisciplinary as well, such as a course developed by Miller and Watson (2010) in mathematical biology to bridge the gap between mathematics and the life sciences. Because these experiences might be a standard part of the curriculum, this type of URE is automatically accessible to students of almost all skill levels and backgrounds. That is, there is no screening of students other than that they have had the required prerequisite course and/or they meet a given minimum standard of academic accomplishment, such as a grade point average above a probationary level.
In a CURE, the research projects investigated by the class are typically, though not always, linked to a faculty member’s research program. Students earn academic credit for participating in the CURE, which may replace required traditional course labs in some cases. Some CUREs offer the opportunity to continue research in the summer. Given the short period of time available for a CURE, the depth of the experience provided may vary
significantly, based on the design of the CURE, the nature of the discipline, and the cost of research efforts in the area covered by the CURE. Some CUREs are a single semester, others last for two semesters (see Box 2-7 on the SEA-Phages program and Box 2-8 on the Binghamton University Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Disease Project), whereas others can last three or more semesters (see Box 2-9 on the Freshman Research Initiative at The University of Texas at Austin).
UREs have been integrated into programs that span multiple semesters or multiple academic years and include academic support services such as tutoring. See Box 2-10 for a program designed to build a community through a residential program. These comprehensive programs frequently target students who enter college less well prepared and students who are
members of underrepresented groups in the discipline and may be more likely to face challenges as they navigate the majority culture of their discipline. For example, the psychology department at CUNY Baruch College uses funding from an NSF REU grant to fund an academic year–long research experience with the purpose of enhancing graduate school enrollment of individuals from underrepresented groups.7 Trainee activities include a minimum of 10 hours per week working with a faculty-led research team and contributing to ongoing research through collecting and analyzing data during the fall and spring semesters. In addition, students enroll in a year-long preparation course for graduate school and receive financial compensation for their research in the lab.
A program sponsored by NIH, Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC), is a national-level program that provides financial support to historically underrepresented minority students for a 24-month period to improve their preparation for high-caliber graduate training at the doctoral level.8 MARC institutions select the trainees, typically students in the last 2 years of undergraduate study who have expressed interest in pursuing an advanced degree. MARC institutions are encouraged to design programs that address their unique mission, strengths, and demographics; however, a cornerstone of the funding is that each program must provide students with
7 For more information on this program, see http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/wsas/academics/psychology/NSFUndergraduateResearchExperience.htm [November 2016].
8 See https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/MARC/Pages/USTARAwards.aspx [November 2016] for details about this program.
a summer research experience at a research-intensive institution outside of the MARC institution. During the academic year, institutions may also provide research training/experience opportunities as appropriate.
Bridge programs are usually UREs incorporated into an extended orientation program that serves to support student transitions. The targeted
transition can be at the start of college—students transitioning from high school or transferring from another institution—or at the transition from undergraduate to graduate school. The latter programs are typically referred to as postbaccalaureate programs. Bridge programs can serve to introduce research early in a student’s career, when they not only provide the opportunity to begin making connections between classroom and learning within the research environment, but also can provide access to research faculty with whom undergraduate students would not otherwise interact until they took more advanced courses. Box 2-11 illustrates two examples of partnerships with community colleges that serve to bridge the transition from two-year to four-year institutions.
Bridge programs are also offered for incoming graduate students, for whom they provide an opportunity to begin research group rotations before their formal graduate training program begins. Generally lasting 1-2 years, these postbaccalaureate programs provide intensive research experiences and academic preparation for students who have completed their undergraduate degrees but would benefit from additional experience and preparation before beginning a graduate training program. For example, students participating in the NIH-supported (through an R25
grant) Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program are paired for their research experience with a faculty mentor and work in the mentor’s lab at one of the graduate-level institutions.9 In addition, students also receive supplemental training in scientific writing, literature evaluation, and interaction with the academic community. Many of these postbaccalaureate bridge programs are funded by extramural sources. Students earn academic credit for the courses they complete and a stipend for the research they do. Upon program completion, students are better positioned for admission to top-tier graduate programs, often the program at the institution where they participated in the postbaccalaureate program.
Consortiums allow for collaboration with faculty and students from different colleges and universities, which serves to create a multidisciplinary context for the work. The scale of the research and the questions that can be addressed are beyond what could be accomplished through more tradi-
9 See https://www.training.nih.gov/programs/postbac_irta [November 2016].
tional apprentice-style models because teams of researchers (faculty and students) can work on specific themes of research. Consortiums can provide opportunities for a pooling of resources across institutions to allow more students an opportunity to participate in research. Box 2-12 provides an example of this approach developed by the Keck Geology Consortium.
Moreover, these programs span across multiple semesters, including the summer, and may be a larger commitment on the part of the student than some other forms of UREs. Box 2-13 provides an example of a program—the Vertically Integrated Projects Program—that highlights an innovative process for engaging teams of undergraduate students over multiple years in research and for sustaining the functionality of the team for many years, even decades.
Consortiums also allow for more creative ways to increase undergraduate research, such as by providing opportunities for faculty to develop skills, through workshops, that they can use throughout the academic year. Box 2-14 provides an example of this type of approach for mathematics. Moreover, these programs have encouraged diversity in research by specifically supporting programs geared toward students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM. Box 2-15 highlights two such programs, one at the undergraduate level (HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program) and the other geared specifically toward getting students into graduate programs (Leadership Alliance).
Community-Based Research Programs
Often linked to service-learning courses, community-based research experiences are a unique type of URE that includes service to the community as an outcome of the research. They may take the form of a CURE or an individual faculty research group URE as described above, but they also have a component in that in addition to a research mentor, students interact with a community partner who contributes to the design of the research project and provides the venue in which the research takes place. Ultimately, the goal of this type of research is to provide results and understanding that advance the work of the community partner in using evidence-based approaches. For example, public health is a priority for many of the participating organizations, with research examining a variety of topics from environmental health to infectious diseases. Box 2-16 illustrates the range of these topics through three programs. The first two use different approaches to address environmental health, whereas the third is a program geared toward infectious disease.
In addition to the variety of UREs discussed above, there are a few different types of approaches that could prepare students for or serve as extensions of UREs. These approaches include more preparatory classes, like an introductory methods course, or are extensions such as bridge programs to prepare students for future graduate work. The format for these experiences exhibit the same variability as has been discussed throughout this chapter.
Introductory Course on Reviewing Scientific Literature
An important skill to have when conducting research is the ability to think critically about research and the existing literature. Gottesman and Hoskins (2012) developed a course at the City University of New York that uses a strategy called CREATE: Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret data, and Think of the next Experiment. Freshmen students were enrolled in this introductory, one-semester course that used targeted readings to develop these analytical skills. Through this course, students self-reported gains in their ability to think critically and understand primary STEM literature.
A different program has been created to teach first- and second-year students at the University of California, Los Angeles, about research. In that program students hear a full seminar by an invited biologist and then spend 5 weeks deconstructing the speaker’s research, reading his or her papers, and learning about the speaker’s motivations, decisions, and methods. The speaker then returns for the students to ask questions based on their new found knowledge (Clark et al., 2009).
Introductory Courses on Research Methods
Inquiry-based activities—namely, activities that do not have simple “right or wrong” answers but instead generate results that are “messy” and open to interpretation—can be integrated into traditional laboratory (or field-based) courses. These types of learning experiences would not necessarily meet the committee’s definition of a URE, as they do not typically generate new knowledge, but they could lay the groundwork for students to participate in a later URE or could occur alongside a student’s first URE to give the student a structured introduction to the relevant approaches and topics. These introductory experiences with open-ended inquiry might be in the form of a research methods class that allows students to perform many aspects of the research experience—formulating, executing, and presenting the results of a research project—with the goal of developing the skills, motivation, and confidence to engage further as a STEM professional.
Courses that follow instructional approaches such as Modeling Instruction10 or Investigative Science Learning Environment,11 as well as some Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning courses,12 engage students in discovery-based experiences in which the content is not novel but well established. The activities are designed for students to discover the laws of nature by carrying out experiments, making rules or models, and iterating and refining their models after additional experimentation or discovery. The curricula and pedagogy facilitate a discovery-as-if-new experience, build collaboration skills, and support development of science/engineering identity.
For example, selected geology undergraduate students at Hope College completed two international field expeditions to Sweden in the past 10 years.13 Goals of the program included reinforcing how research questions are formulated and answered with field observations. Students gained field mapping experience, and the research project highlighted the international collaborative process with fellow Swedish scientists. Project funding was assembled from a faculty development grant, supplemental departmental funding, and student research grants from the Geological Society of America.
Graduate Bridge Programs
Similar to undergraduate bridge programs, graduate-level bridge programs support a student’s transition from a master’s program to a doctoral program. For example, there is an NSF-sponsored program at Fisk University in collaboration with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, developed to improve demographic diversity within STEM disciplines. Through this program, students earn a master’s degree at Fisk University in physics, biology, or chemistry with full funding support. Students are then recommended to specific departments by the Fisk-Vanderbilt committee and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt. Students then take various courses depending on their undergraduate preparation and specific area of studies. They also receive research experience with faculty, connection with Vanderbilt professors, and support in the application to Vanderbilt’s Ph.D. program. The program provides full instructional opportunities to undertake Ph.D. coursework completion at both Fisk and Vanderbilt.
10 For more information on the Modeling Instruction approach, see http://perg.fiu.edu/resources/modeling-instruction/ and http://modelinginstruction.org [November 2016].
13 See http://www.hope.edu/pr/nfhc/current/nfhc1214pg14-15.pdf [November 2016].
The extent to which each type of URE includes each of the various characteristics and attributes discussed at the beginning of this chapter differs, but a continuum of experiences reflecting student development from observer to independent researcher can be articulated (see Figure 2-1). That is, students may first be exposed to the research environment primarily as observers, so that they can become physically involved in the business of research while acclimating themselves to the culture and community of practice. The expectation of intellectual engagement at this stage may be minimal, as it is merely intended to provide students with opportunities to develop basic research skills appropriate to their discipline. As students participate in more and different experiences, the level of engagement may increase as the student becomes more fluent with the practices of research, which may lead to greater independence in the work they undertake.
In addition to increasing intellectual engagement, students increasingly develop technical research skills (i.e., using instrumentation and appropriate methods) and begin to explore and understand the data that are being collected. Students involved in a research project may conduct minimal analysis, as this is the first stage at which students begin to develop the ability to think through the research questions to conduct proper analyses. As students are engaged in a research experience or research program, they not only can articulate how the data were collected and analyzed, but also can draw conclusions and communicate the findings to a broader audience. Lastly, as students transition to becoming a STEM researcher, they have extensive engagement with research, developing their own research identity. This includes critically reading and actively reflecting upon primary STEM literature.
This trend in engagement can be articulated as a continuum that reflects different stages and levels of engagement in a research experience. Although these stages are additive in nature, a student need not progress through each stage sequentially; that is, a student can immediately participate at the highest level of engagement (termed the “Research Program” in Figure 2-1). An important point is that students can realize the benefits of research at any stage.
As highlighted throughout this chapter, there is substantial variability in programs of undergraduate research. That is, students can engage in UREs in STEM in many different ways, to varying degrees, and across a variety of different settings. Given the heterogeneity of UREs, it is difficult to draw conclusions that apply generally to all types of UREs. Moreover,
the lack of systematic data collection makes it difficult to know how many students participate in UREs, where UREs are offered, and if there are gaps in access to UREs across different institutional types, disciplines, or groups of students. Although learning objectives differ across the various types of UREs, there are some crosscutting characteristics that all UREs exhibit and that form the basis for the committee’s definition of UREs. UREs engage the students in the type of work that STEM researchers do, including discovery, iteration, and collaboration as the students learn STEM disciplinary knowledge and practices while working on a topic that has relevance beyond the course. UREs are structured and guided by a mentor, and they intellectually engage students with the goal that students assume increasing ownership of some aspects of the project over time. The frequency and intensity of approaches varies among UREs due to choices made by faculty, program directors, and others in response to their goals, constraints, and preferences. Information about which attributes of UREs are most significant for their effects on students outcomes would be helpful to those planning and implementing UREs; the currently available research on this topic will be discussed in Chapter 4.
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