Undergraduate research - Journal of Chemical Education (ACS

Undergraduate research. C. F. Brown. J. Chem. Educ. , 1951, 28 (7), p 382. DOI: 10.1021/ed028p382. Publication Date: July 1951. Cite this:J. Chem. Edu...
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C. F. BROWN Bethany College, Bethany, West Virginia

INCREASED interest in chemistry, medicine, atomic energy, and scientific research generally, has brought to the front the significant role of science in our civilization. Just what importance the role of science, particularly chemistry, should assume in the educational program is causing educators much concern. Specialized training is usually obtained through advanced study and research. Just how much of this should be given in a liberal education is a controversial subject. Of those entering the profession of chemistry each year, about eight per cent have the doctor's degree, and another eight to ten per cent the master's; the signifirant fact, however, is that about 80 per cent enter urith only the bachelor's degree.% This would indicate that for the great majority of chemists, training for the profession is the responsibility of undergraduate education. How much, if any, research or independent study should be included in this education? The author was interested in finding out what percentage of colleges and universities offer a course in ~ndergraduat~e research and accordingly sent a questionnaire to 110 institutions of all types: small colleges and large universities, liberal-arts colleges and technical schools, etc. The selection of institutions geographically and educationally was such that it was felt that the reactions obtained would present a fairly representative picture of the attitude tou~ardundergraduate research. The major questions asked were:

types of institutions; hen ex-el.,several required a senior thesis before graduation. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the place of science in liberal-arts ed~cation,~ and an ever-increasing demand that, students in college he broadly educated, leaving little time for specialization. However, when the four-year student enters industry to earn a living he soon finds that the jack-of-all-trades graduate is very likely to become tied to the bench because he has had little of this specialized training. In this scientific age it seems that the student must be both liberally educated and specialized if he is to compete with students having graduate degrees or technicalschool training. The American Chemical Society has attempted through the Committee on Professional Training to set up criteria for the "balanced" education of a chemist. Courses in liberal arts are listed along with the basic courses in chemistry and some degree of specialization. This specialization is usually in the form of an advanced course, or courses, in one of the major branches of chemistry; however, some members of the Committee feel that a program of research is indispensable to a small college but should not replace work in the basic year courses required by the A. C. S. Minimum Standards, such as organic and physical chemistry. This is concurred in by those instit.utions offering undergraduate research. The chief objection to undergraduate research found Is an undergraduate research program offered? in this survey was that so much time has to be spent in Is your attitude toward undergraduate research teaching basic principles, that there is no time left for favorable or unfavorable, and why? att,ention to undergraduate research. This objection What requirements do you consider necessary for was met with the question, "How is an instructor to adequate undergraduate research? judge whether or not a student has grasped the basic What. . benefit,^ to the student and institution re- ~rinci~les?"The s i m ~ l efact that information is funsult from such a program? heled down a student akd he can parrot this information Out of 86 replies, 68 favored undergraduate research back is no assurance that he understands what he is in the curriculum, 12 did not, with 6 undecided. Sixty- doing. The majority of the institutions favoring some form three offered such a program, while 23 did not. Of the latter group, 7 favored such a course, however. Of of independent study feel that. a student who has shown those offering undergraduate research, three were un- sufficient interest and graqp of fundamentals should be decided as to its suitability. Many had modified the given the opportunity for independent work. Somecourses originally offered. Eleven of the research times students who are just average in class work will courses were required, the rest optional. Forty-one show unusual talent when started on an independent were reported as being limited to senior students, while project. However, care must he taken in the selection of the eight were also open to juniors. The general attitude is shown to be five to one in favor of undergraduate re- extent or scope of the problem. I t should be of such a search in t,he curriculum. In the majority of cases, no nature that the student gets a taste of the difficultiesof significant difference could be seen between different research, but at the same time accomplishes enough to gain a feeling of achie\.~mentand a realization of the


Presented at the 118th Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago, Srptemher, 1950. \PARKER, J. C., Ch.mn. Eng. S m w . 23, 2581 (1950).

Fawms, G., J. CHEII.FIKV.,26, 576 (1949); C. B. H ~ D , ibid.,21, 81 (3944).


JULY, 1951

nature and philosophy of research. If the problem is too difficult frustration and disillusionment may result, which may subsequently be overcome only with much effort. A "moderate" problem is the ideal, but if an error is made it should be in the direction of the simple rather than the difficult. Originality, enthusiasm, and perseverance were considered to be more essential than facilities and equipment,. Lavoisier, Faraday, and other pioneers in science were not discouraged in their efforts because they lacked a convenient source of facilities and supplies; they contrived suitable means for accomplishing their purposes. There is of course a limit of facilities below which work is not possible, but the average laboratory in a school qualified to grant an A.B. or B.S. degree is well enough equipped for a surprising amount of original work if there is the necessary will and initiative.


Many of the contributors felt that not only did the student derive benefit but that such a program was vital to the existence of the smaller institution, particularly those not giving graduate work. The reason most commonly given was that some form of research is necessary to keep up the self-respect of the instructor. If he is not able to engage in some constructive and creative enterprise, however small, he soon becomes lethargic, indifferent, or frustrated, which condition results in lowered morale and indifferent instruction. Students educated under such conditions are usually not suitably trained to compete with students coming from the more progressive institutions, and the results inevitably lead to reduced enrollment in the less progressive school. This situation was cited as one to which many college adminiet,rations should give serious consideration.