April 2010

Report Finds Summer Research Is a Positive Experience

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology recently released a report highlighting the outcomes of an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded National Institutes of Health summer research program that enabled NIH-funded investigators to provide hands-on research opportunities to thousands of students and science teachers across the country. The report, “Stimulating Science Education: NIH Summer Research Program Engages Students and Teachers in Science,” is based on a survey of more than 600 students and teachers. It found that, in addition to creating jobs and advancing research, the program encouraged students to pursue health-science careers and provided learning and professional development opportunities to science educators.

The primary goal of the Recovery Act was to jump-start the economy by creating and preserving jobs while advancing national priorities, such as improving health and education. NIH allocated $28 million of its ARRA funds for the Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Educators program, funding nearly 3,000 summer jobs in 2009, including positions for 427 high school students, 2,132 college students and 399 science teachers.

Students reported being able to participate in a variety of activities, such as presenting research at conferences and writing research reports for publication. Roughly half of the undergraduates received advice about scientific careers or attending graduate school.


Figure 1. A majority of high school and undergraduate students indicated that their summer research experience played an important role in their decision to further their science education.

Both college and high school students reported that it taught them what a career in research is about, strengthened their research and laboratory skills and broadened their understanding of scientific literature. The opportunity also boosted their self-confidence and their ability to work independently.

More than three-quarters of high school student respondents planning to major in science reported that their summer research experience played an important role in that decision (Figure 1). Likewise, 66 percent of undergraduates planning to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees in science indicated that their research experience was an important factor in that decision.

Many teachers said they expected to be able to integrate what they learned during the summer into their teaching by creating new or revised educational content and hands-on learning activities, introducing new technologies into their labs and classrooms and raising educational standards. They said the experience also gave them more confidence in discussing science careers and related jobs with their students.

Science educators also expected the program to benefit them professionally by expanding their network of scientists and educators, helping them to identify additional scientific and educational opportunities and preparing them for new leadership responsibilities in their school districts. The vast majority of teachers who responded to the survey reported that they were likely to pursue another research opportunity if given the chance.

Jennifer A. Hobin (jhobin@faseb.org) is associate director for scientific affairs for the Office of Public Affairs at FASEB.

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Unfortunately, NSF soon dropped the ball and pulled back significantly on funding such programs for high school students. That, too often, is the problem with granting agencies and foundations---instead of continuing to fund good programs they prefer to fund the "new and innovative," leaving those with proven records to fend for themselves. I am happy to see that NIH is trying to remedy the situation---now if only NSF gets the message we might be able to do something about the national decline in science interest among our youth. Frank


Forty-three years ago I was fortunate to participate in an NSF-funded "Secondary Science Training Program (SSTP)" summer program as a high school student---and it significantly affected my career choice to become a scientist. The seven-week program that I attended was at Clemson University and incorporated a research project that I and another student worked on in conjunction with Professor W.K. Willard. His mentorship was so important that I can still remember his name! Frank



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