Expert: Undergraduate Research Succeeds in Keeping Fires Lit for Young Scientists

Undergraduate research programs seem to be a key in keeping budding scientists on track.

When it comes to prompting university students to continue studying science, undergraduate research programs seem to be a key in keeping budding scientists on track to complete higher-level degrees, according to one Texas Tech University psychologist. Though undergraduate research programs aren't brand new, not many formal studies into their effectiveness exist, said Roman Taraban, a cognitive psychologist and co-editor of "Creating Effective Undergraduate Research Programs in Science." That lack of understanding and his firsthand experience with programs such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Program and his department's undergraduate research initiative at Texas Tech served as the impetus to compiling the book, which was recently reviewed by the journal, Science. "The data show that the more undergraduates are involved in research, the more apt they are to continue on in their studies with enthusiasm," he said. "These programs give them the mindset and the experience to get into graduate school and be successful. And in terms of credentials for grad school, time spent in the lab is like gold in your pocket." The book describes a range of diverse research activities at different institutions as well as ways to establish and improve research programs and assess the impact they have on students. Also, it gives examples of programs that have worked. "There's still a long way to go to convince university administrators that creating more undergraduate research programs is a direction people should go," Taraban said. "A lot of our teaching is still the classroom/lecture style. So, this is still very much a grassroots push." CONTACT: Roman Taraban, professor, Department of Psychology, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-3711 ext. 247, or roman.taraban@ttu.edu