Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lure the undergrads...

I spent most of today reading through various articles analyzing the success of federally funded undergraduate research programs. As I read through the descriptions of these various programs, I asked myself, what really matters in creating a fantastic undergraduate research program? Sure, funding and facilities and good students and good ideas are important factors, but none of those variables sounded completely essential to me. After some reflection on my own personal research experiences, I came to the conclusion that the most important element that determines the value of a student's research experience is the passion of the investigator who serves as their mentor. Without that fire in their belly, that drive and excitement, resources will go to waste and students will struggle to realize their full potential as young, promising investigators. As I went back and reviewed the research program descriptions, I was surprised to see that none of them required any sort of faculty development. I have a lot of faith that most faculty scientists can organize great research opportunities for their undergraduate students, but the federal funds for these programs aren't to provide summer science jobs and cheap undergraduate labor. The intent of these programs is to inspire more students to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology. But money doesn't inspire. Enhancing science competency doesn't inspire. Only a mentor that is passionate about their work and excited to share their daily experiences will be an inspiring role model. Those are the kind of people science needs now.

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