May 2011

NIH summer research program breeds success

FASEB report highlights summer research experiences of students and science educators.

Photo by George Joch, courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.
Because of the funding made available to the NIH through the ARRA, students and educators had the opportunity to take part in a hands-on research experience in top-tier research facilities across the country.

On Feb. 11, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology released the second in a pair of reports analyzing the experiences of high school students, undergraduates and science educators who participated in the National Institutes of Health’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-supported summer research program. The ARRA funds allowed more than 2,000 participants to take part in laboratory research throughout the continental United States and Puerto Rico during the summer of 2010. Drawing on information obtained through an online survey, the report, titled“Energizing & Investing in the Future of Science: NIH Summer Research Program Immerses High School Students, Undergraduates, and Teachers in Science,” highlighted how the program helped participants develop research and laboratory skills, influenced students’ decisions to pursue a career in scientific research, and enhanced the work of science educators.

Engaging future scientists

Most program participants had never participated in a structured research opportunity before, yet their experience conducting research in an NIH-funded laboratory sparked their interest in pursuing additional science education. All of the high school students surveyed planned on attending college, with more than 80 percent planning to choose a science-related major. Close to two-thirds of participating undergraduates, the majority of whom were majoring in the biological sciences, planned on pursuing a science master’s or doctorate degree after graduation. Both groups of students indicated that their participation in the program was vital to those decisions.

Exceeding expectations

Students’ interest in pursuing additional training in science likely was fueled at least in part by the quality of the research experiences they had. Three-quarters of the students indicated that the program exceeded their expectations. Interestingly, a higher percentage of high school students had their expectations met than undergraduates. Moreover, most students thought that the person supervising or mentoring them through their summer research experience was above average or outstanding. Both high school students and undergraduates noted that their mentors made them feel as though they were a part of the research team and talked to them about careers in science. Aside from contributing to a particular research project, students were exposed to other activities relevant to a career in research, such as delivering a presentation, attending scientific seminars and preparing a report for publication.

Enhancing science education

The program also allowed science educators from the elementary through university levels to spend the summer immersed in biomedical research. Most of the educators taught in the biological sciences, with some teaching in multiple disciplines. Close to three-quarters of these teachers said that their research experience was related to the subjects in which they specialized. The program not only gave science educators, like participating students, practical laboratory experience, it gave them the opportunity to participate in a variety of other scientific and professional development activities. For example, they attended seminars, participated in laboratory meetings and gave presentations at scientific conferences. One of the most exciting findings of this survey was that the research experience provided educators with confidence to better teach their subject matter and allowed them to apply what they learned in the laboratory to their classrooms.

Because of the funding made available to the NIH through the ARRA, students and educators had the opportunity to take part in a hands-on research experience in top-tier research facilities across the country. The resulting experiences encouraged students to pursue more advanced scientific training and helped science teachers improve classroom content and methods. We anticipate that many of these newly energized teachers will inspire students to pursue research careers.

Anne DeschampsAnne M. Deschamps (adeschamps@faseb.org) is a Science Policy Analyst in the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB.


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