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During the past eight years of HHMI support we have a built an interactive community of undergraduate researchers. This community is seeded with undergraduate research fellowships in summer and academic year programs, but expands beyond that to include a large group of students from multiple departments. It is integrated with our outreach programs and other curricula innovations, and is institutionalized through a Certificate for Life Sciences Research.

A large number of students take the introductory lectures and lab in Biology, requiring six lecture classes of 300 students, and over 120 sections of lab. We have introduced innovations in both, but persistence in STEM remains a concern. For example, the second lab in the series is required by students majoring in the life sciences, but only 60% of students actually receive a STEM degree. Persistence is even worse for URM students.

There is clearly an evident roadblock preventing or distracting many early-career students from advancing to where they can fully participate in our research community and excellent upper division opportunities. The overall goal of this proposal is to bridge this gap, and to introduce innovations that will engage and excite students about science, leading to greater persistence. The primary mechanism is to introduce research-based courses that all early-career (first and second year) students take, modeled after the SEA-PHAGES program for which Pitt plays a primary role in scientific and programmatic leadership. This centerpiece curricula revision presents many challenges, although the SEA-PHAGES experience offers a strong model, and has been shown to increase student persistence. Because we currently teach SEA-PHAGES and lead the scientific infrastructure, we envisage a clear path to expanding the number of sections of the SEA-PHAGES course from one to ten. This will require workshops, protocols, and use of resident scientific leadership, which we will use to establish a path for instructor training and development.

Three additional courses will be developed and implemented, based on fly genetics, spider behavior, and diabetes. All three courses take advantage of resident faculty expertise, and will be designed using the seven attributes of research experiences for novice scientists in the PHIRE program, and mapped to the six core competencies in the NSF Vision and Change report. These courses will be assessed using Lopatto's CURE and Hanauer's POS (Project Ownership Survey), and we will monitor student progress from these courses towards STEM degrees, determining whether these have the desired impact on persistence above baseline data. In addition, because these courses involve authentic research activities, we expect some studies to advance towards publication in the peer-reviewed literature, which we will also monitor.

These courses will integrate well with our current undergraduate research community and represent an extension of it, not a stand-alone intervention. Students completing the research labs can continue research in summer, academic year, parallel project and research hub programs, and students in the fellowship programs can serve as UTAs in the early career research labs. This horizontal and vertical integration of the research community is the foundation of its sustainability.

For More Information

Graham Hatfull, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
Department of Biological Sciences
4249 5th Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260-3583


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