Current Projects

In today’s world, we need scientists everywhere, not just in traditional academic roles.

The goal of our lab is to help undergraduates begin to see themselves as scientists, especially as this relates to identifying a scientific career path and entering the STEM workforce, and become experts in scientific processes and skills.

Through a variety of smaller projects, we aim to prepare undergraduates with experience in scientific processes and skills and help these students bring awareness to the value of these skills and how they can be applied to a variety of career paths.

“Sense of Belonging” to the Biology Department among undergraduate biology students. We have validated a Sense of Belonging to a Biology Department questionnaire designed to measure student engagement within the Biology Department. This questionnaire will help departments collect data on how they are engaging with their undergraduates.

We are expanding on this research with a collaborations across several institutions to evaluate the use of the questionnaire among different scientific disciplines.

Seeing yourself as a scientist: increasing science identity using professional development modules designed for undergraduate students

As educators, we should not assume that students are progressing toward intended STEM careers simply because they persisted and received a STEM degree. In addition to learning Biology content and scientific skills, students need guidance to make optimal career choices. We have developed, implemented, and assessed seven career development modules designed specifically for students to consider their successes as a scientist and reflect on applying their biological knowledge and scientific skills to a range of Biology careers as a way to increase science identity. We developed these modules to increase student confidence in themselves as scientists by completing assignments highlighting the value and the utility of their Biology degree as a way to increase both their science and Biology identity. These data are currently under review for publication.

Novice meets expert: what happens when students interview a scientist about their research?

We have developed a novel method for student engagement in research where students deconstruct a research paper published by a FIU faculty member. Next, students meet with the authors of the research paper to have conversations within the traditional scientific discourse, a practice that further develops students’ understanding of the scientific community.  Each group of students visited the author on campus and engaged in an ~1-hour long interview. There was no set of questions that students were required to ask: questions vary from content-based to career-based to personal interest.

Over the course of two semesters, we recorded 24 student-author interviews and are currently conducting inductive thematic analysis on these data. We are examining interview transcripts and are uncovering common themes that take place across each interview, including authors giving advice to young scientists, both author-led and student-led critical thinking, and explanations of experimental design.  We are measuring both the frequency of these events as well as when they occur during the interview.  Our data set will provide insight into how expert and novice scientists can better communicate.

How Are Tours of Botanical Gardens Enhancing the Student Experience in General Bio II?

Undergraduate STEM students are usually not attuned to the intricacies of plant life histories, nor the dynamic role plants play in ecosystem function and human society, a phenomenon termed “plant blindness.”  Plant blindness has real world consequences which include impediment of effective plant conservation measures due to lack of attention, resource allocations, or ill-advised policies.

Botany education, especially field botany, has been on the decline in the past decades, both in terms of number of faculty members and universities offering these courses. In parallel, career paths that need and benefit from a workforce with botanical knowledge has increased. Consequently, there is a dire need to energize botanical topics to accelerate engagement of university students in botany, regardless of their career trajectories.

FIU has partnered with Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden to provide Gen Bio students with a short but intensive tour as part of their course.  Our data is showing positive shifts in attitudes towards botany as well as students being able to relate botany to their future career plans.

How are STEM graduate students defining science communication?  

STEM graduate students are the future of science communication. Increasingly, communicating science to the public is recognized as the responsibility of professional scientists; however, these skills are not always included in graduate training. Our lab is working to provide a comprehensive analysis of what science communication training is like from the point of view of today’s STEM graduate students.

A survey asking STEM graduate students about their experiences with science communication was distributed in 2018.  Preliminary analysis of the quantitative data indicates that 74% of respondents stated that they received no formal training in science communication from their graduate institutions.  We collected data relating to specific communication skills STEM graduate students are, or are not, learning in graduate school. We also explore, using qualitative data, how today’s graduate students define science communication, which we have found to be very different from how established scientists are defining science communication.

Annotated Research Papers in the Classroom: How can annotated papers be used in the classroom, and what learning gains are taking place?  This project investigates what science processes skills students can learn using annotated literature, including expert-like thinking and experimental design skills. Learn more about this project here.

Annotator Training as a Professional Development Experience: Graduate students in STEM fields represent an untapped pool of talent to improve both STEM education and STEM communication.  How can annotating a scientific research paper provide STEM graduate students with skills to make them knowledgeable educators and communicators?  How does the annotation training change participants attitudes regarding STEM education and STEM communication? Learn more about this project here.

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