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 currently have NSF funding to expand on this research with collaborations across several institutions to evaluate the use of the questionnaire among different scientific disciplines.
Career development opportunities as a lever for increasing diversity in STEM.
There is an urgent need to increase the numbers and diversity of prepared graduates joining the biomedical workforce through systematic and impactful evidence-based approaches that follow scientific practices. We currently have NIH RO1 funding to address the lack of diversity in biomedical careers by designing, implementing and testing innovative interventions; as well as investigating the effect of high-impact practices (e.g., different research experience formats and career development opportunities) on students’ career goals, career strategies, and key student career intent and action outcomes.
This research will advance our understanding of best-practices in preparing a diverse biomedical workforce by 1) developing and testing evidence-based programs, thus, laying the groundwork for implementing similar efforts in life science curricula to increase minority representation in the biomedical workforce; 2) conducting comparative analyses across research experience formats, and across student demographics, to directly compare the impact of various experiences on student outcomes; 3) focusing on the impact of research experiences and career development opportunities on students from underrepresented backgrounds, an area that is significantly understudied, and 4) following students longitudinally to comprehensively understand how students develop career strategies and factors that trigger the intent and actions to pursue a career in biomedical research.
Where are all the biology majors going?
Almost half of undergraduates in a STEM major choose to pursue different careers than originally intended, and many students continue to debate possible careers after their undergraduate education. We should not assume that students are progressing toward intended STEM careers simply because they have persisted in STEM. In fact, only 44.6% of all degree holders in life sciences are employed in science and engineering occupations (NSB, 2019). Why are life science graduates not entering the life science workforce after graduation? Where are they going instead? What efforts can we take to retain all graduates within the life sciences workforce?
With funding from the The Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Foundation we will answer these questions using longitudinal interviews with current FIU biology students as well as FIU alumni.
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 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. We continue to analyze our data set to (1) identify profiles of graduate students based on how they categorized scicomm related activities and (2) compare how their perceptions related to their prior participation in scicomm and experiences as teaching assistants.