Research as chemical education - Journal of Chemical Education

The importance of undergraduate research. From the "State-of-the-Art Symposium for Chemical Educators: Chemical Education for the 80's", held at the A...
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Michael P. Doyle' Hope College. Holland, MI 49423 Research is the culminating educational experience for undergraduate students. No other educational activity better prepares a student for logical inquiry, critical awareness of Eurient events in his or her disci&n;, and the rigor of indewndent activity. In chemistrv, research is oerformed through a co~lahorative~arran~ementbetween a faculty member and astudent. The faculty member nervesas ihestudent'smentor and guides the student to productive ventures. T h e end result of this venture may he an exciting hreakthrough that extends our knowledge of nature, a leading discovery that contrihutes t o the development of a new process or product, or merely the extension of chemical information. In any case, students develop an excitement for discovery and are better prepared for their future careers. M. R. MacLaury of General Electric Corporate Research and Develoument has ohserved that hachelor of science demee applicants."who have spent several summers or severzsemesters workine in a lahoratorv on a 'real' nrohlem are much more impressive during the interview thad those candidates who have not taken advantaee of research o~oortunites"( I ) . T h e same could he said of applicants for gr&ate or medical school. Jon Fuller, President of the Great Lake College Association, has recentlv described the conseauences of the declininpl oool of our coliege-age population, the impact of demographic trends, and the effect of high-tech industry on our nation's colleges and universities. He observed (2)

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Journal of Chemical Education

For our colleges and universities, shifts in job opportunitiesmay mean. ..neater Dressure to eet into the best or most ~restieious . " institutions withihe hope thit thore will be entry poinu fan the increasingly m a n d increasingly desirable topirvel~obs.. .With an increasing sense of competition among instirutions, one lmportant reason to support research will be because research productivity is conhected to institutional prestige and recognition. Research productivity is not likely, at the undergraduate level, to translate directlv into student choice of one institution aver anofan other, but it doeiaffect thegenrralpercepti~,n~rfthequality institution, and that clearly is an increasingly important factor in student choice. ~~


Conflict about the Importance of Research a t Predominantly Undergraduate Schools

Our present high regard for undergraduate research is the result of a long history of conflict between opposing schools of thought that continues in some circles today. In the first W. A. Patrick of John Hopkins Uniissue of THIS JOURNAL, versity chided instructors of chemistrv in undereraduate colleges (3): It is my belief that the task of laying the accumulated knowledge of chemistry before his students is of sufficient magnitude to demand the entire strength and ability of any man. If we seek to improve the standard of chemical instruction by requiring the instructor to add to our store of knowledge by original investigation, as well as present to students the known facts with clearness and enthusiasm, then I fear that either poor teaching or poor investigation will result in the majority of cases. H e goes on to say The trouble at present is that the teacher is suffering from an inferiority complex. He sees the prizes in the hands of the "research

men" and when he eomparea hia work with that of the latter he fmds that the teacher is usually at a disadvantage. . . The remedy is to he found. not bv. rwuirine . "the teacher to show his worth as an investigator hut by making him prove that he is a teacher and in in. sisting that the prufesaion uf teaching be gwen its pruper recogni. tion. This view was immediately challenged by Harry N.Holmes of Oberlin College, who would go onto become president of the American Chemical Society in 1942. Among other things, Holmes observed (4): Laat April at a meeting ofthe Division of Chemistry of the National Research Council it was voted to encourage the college teacher to engage in research. . . A stimulatingfreshness and a feeling of authoritv come to the colleee teacher as he unravels the secrets of science. The teacher profits, the great body of science profits, and the pupil profits. The pupd then fwls that he is is near me ofthe fresh springs that feed thestream uf knowledge into which he has been dipping. Unfortunatelv, most facultv in ~redominantlvundergraduate colleg& and universities ard not involvedin meaningful research with undergraduate students. Their students d o not receive the motivational influence of real professional activities and, when faced with career choices, often opt for careers that are more visible than those experienced through classroom instruction. Furthermore, institutions without active research programs may find faculty recruitment increasingly difficult. Potential applicants for a faculty position often avoid institutions that do not offer the continued promise of discovery through research. As a result there has been a marked absence of the Teacher-Scholar, as defined by the awards provided by the Dreyfus Foundation, at predominantly undergraduate institutions. Sources of Funding for Undergraduate Research A spectrum of programs currently exists for the support of undermaduate research. and several of them are tareeted a t predominantly undergraduate institutions. The Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Societv. Research Corporation, and the National Science ~oundat%nare the ~ r i n c i ~ sources al of fundine for undereraduate research. to these sources are subjected to peer ~ r o p o i a l submitted s review, and the grant decision is based on a number of factors,

including the quality of the proposed research, the research capahility of the investigator, institutional resources, and the tradition of research in the institution. Obviously faculty who have not been active in research and whose institution has not promoted research will find difficulty in pursuing funding from these traditional sources. Special programs exist, however, with both the Petroleum Research Fund (Summer Research Fellowships) and the National Science Foundation (Research in Undergraduate Institutions Program and Small-College Faculty Research Opportunity Awards), that are designed to assist faculty who desire to re-enter the research enterprise, especially when the facilities appropriate for research do not exist a t the home institution. The key factor in the acceptance of research as chemcial education is the institution. Only when the institution provides adequate support in facilities, teaching responsibilities, instrumentation, and faculty salaries will research he maintained as a vital enterprise in the education of its undergraduate students. Undergraduate Research at PhD-Grantlna- institutions The mnditions for undergraduate research at PhD-granting institutions arequite different from those found at red ominantly undergraduate institutions. Research facilities and instrumentation are relatively abundant and teaching responsibilities are often relatively low. Undergraduate involvement in research varies considerably, however, often limited by considerations of space or faculty interest. Summer employment of undergraduate students is not common a t many of these institutions, as might be expected from the emphasis placed upon them for research productivity. Yet, the majority of chemistry majors are graduated from these institutions. Unforunately, they are the only intermediates to the final educational product and, as any sophomore chemistry students knows, if we lose the intermediate we cannot form the product. Literature Cited

Volume 61 Number 10 October 1984