Building a Community of Scholars
Walk into most labs, and you'll find yourself in a community of
scholars: a research professor, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students
and lab staff, chatting about their research and the journal articles
they are reading, comparing notes, asking questions, teaching and
learning from each other. Ellen Fanning wants Vanderbilt undergraduate
science experiences to be like that.
"No one discovers what science is all about in big lecture halls and
cookbook labs," says Fanning, a research molecular biologist at
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who studies how viruses
make use of cellular proteins to circumvent the cell cycle regulation
process and replicate themselves. "It really can only be taught
one-on-one, working on problems that haven't been solved yet."
As an HHMI Professor, she and faculty colleagues Katherine Friedman
and Gisela Mosig will recruit freshmen to spend the summer before their
sophomore year as full-time research interns, rotating through a number
of labs. "The internship will introduce students to the excitement of
research, help them develop personal and professional skills, lower
barriers between beginners and faculty members, and foster a sense of
community," Fanning explains.
After an intensive summer reading journal articles, discussing,
writing, doing experiments, and presenting their results, the interns
will be encouraged to enroll for academic-year research credit hours in
one of the labs. During the next two summers, the students can return
as full-time undergraduate research fellows, continuing their research
while mentoring the next crop of interns.
"All we are trying to do is translate the dynamic atmosphere of the
lab to the undergraduate curriculum," says Fanning. "We expect these
undergraduates to benefit from close associations with scholars at all
levels, as is customary in the lab, and to gain self-confidence as they
assume mentoring responsibilities themselves."
The program will also motivate and support graduate students and
postdoctoral fellows preparing for a future teaching role. Graduate
student and postdoctoral mentors in Fanning's Community of Scholars can
receive credit toward a graduate teaching certificate from Vanderbilt's
Center for Teaching, as well as satisfy a departmental degree
requirement for teaching experience.
"A number of people took the time and made the effort to include me
in their science community when I was an undergraduate at the
University of Wisconsin, and as a result, I have made a wonderful life
in science," Fanning says. "I'm really evangelical about sharing that
with the next generation."
In Germany, where she did her graduate and postdoctoral work,
Fanning recalls that the term for a research adviser is Doktor
Vater (Doctor Father). "I am going to be these undergraduates'
Doktor Mutter," she says.