Thousands of undergraduates engage in real scientific discovery through HHMI’s Science Education Alliance. A new analysis finds that they are more likely to persist in science than students who take traditional laboratory courses.

Over the last nine years, more than 8,800 bacteria-infecting viruses have been discovered by students exploring scientific research for the first time – most during their first year of college.

These student-scientists are part of a global community of researchers working through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's (HHMI) Science Education Alliance to isolate and characterize bacteria-infecting viruses called bacteriophages. More than 16,000 students have contributed to this massive exploration of microbial diversity through a yearlong course called SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science). According to a new analysis, the experience has had a substantial impact on the way students think about science and themselves.

The findings, reported online the week of December 4, 2017, in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that students who engage in authentic research through programs like SEA-PHAGES are more likely to stay in science than students who take traditional introductory biology courses. “Compared to students at the same institutions who are taking traditional lab courses, students in this course score much higher in categories that correspond to persistence in science,” says David Asai, HHMI’s senior director for science education.