Implementation of more structure with regard to developing and presenting research resulted in modest gains in peer assessment and overall grades at the CURE Symposium. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive about the experience, but time continues to be an issue. It was useful to see this feedback and we are going to address the major concerns in the coming semester (reagents not available on time and too few flies available for testing, for example). I was also interested in the responses of students who expressed frustration with experiments not proceeding as planned. This has been an observation of mine over the years while teaching research-based courses and emphasizes a problem with how science is taught in secondary education and also in undergraduate labs. Traditionally, laboratory exercises “work” and students are graded based on their success in obtaining the correct result. However, performing “real” research does not include such a high rate of success so students are taken aback when they do not obtain expected results. The FLAMEnet interventions may help alleviate much of this stress so students understand the reality of research and develop skills to manage challenges and failure.
The evaluation presented here also illuminated two areas that appear to be weak in students’ presentations: confidence in presentation skills and focus on future experimentation beyond their involvement in The Discovery Labs.
A significant number of students reported feeling unreasonably anxious about the presentation of their results. Although this is a normal component of presenting at a professional meeting, future semesters will incorporate additional training in this regard. A required video showing the presentation of the poster by one or more members of the group will be included in the week before the Symposium. This is a lower risk assignment because they can split up the presentation, edit it, and use it as a study tool for the actual presentation. TAs can provide sample questions about the poster to further help students understand what to expect of their audience.
Significance of Future Directions
It seems that we need to spend more time explaining the value of future directions and what happens when things go wrong. This is reflected in peer reviews that mentioned more explanation of significance of findings and future directions is needed. Like many young scientists, students tended to focus on the work of others (Introduction section) and on the methods and techniques used. Copies of instructors’ funded grants could exemplify the proportion of a grant that is dedicated to these topics and how they factor into funding decisions. This may also alleviate stress about not completing the project or obtaining confusing data.