Can nest conditions predict what kinds of predators can masticate a bird? What effects do controlled drugs have on the formation of persistent follicles in beef cows? How resourceful is the neglected art of video poetry? These were just some of the questions that approximately 120 undergraduate students were attempting to answer during the summer of 2007.
The Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum, held at the end of July at the Bond Life Sciences Center, allowed students to present their scholarly research projects to the public. MU students specializing in an array of concentrations were stationed at posters describing their findings.
When asked, each individual reveals ideas about their post-graduation plans. When he graduates, for example, William Donald Thomas plans to continue the same type of research in molecular biology, in search of better treatments for breast cancer. Brian Bostick is a MD/Ph.D. student, earning a medical degree alongside a Ph.D. He explains: “My hope is to combine both clinical work as an MD, working with patients, but also to keep a research career going.” As such, Bostick intends to keep developing treatments for heart disease and “try to transfer those breakthroughs we are having in the laboratory to the bedside and help human patients.” Regarding his own ideal plans following graduation, Severin Stevenson says he would like to work in private industry for a while, but hopes that after some years of this he will return to teaching.
“There’s actually a lot you can do with a Ph.D.,” says Erica Racen. “Traditionally, people think that you go into academia and have your own lab. But I have a passion for teaching. Having come from a small liberal arts college, I would like to go back to that environment and teach.” Amy Replogle similarly reports a passion for teaching, saying, “I would love to become a professor at a small institution.”
While Andrew Cox is not certain what direction to take after graduation, he knows that he loves doing research. “I am less thrilled with the grant writing, the constant rejection, and the cut-throat nature of academia,” he responds. If he had to guess, Cox suspects that he will eventually teach: “I love interacting with students. There is really not much more thrilling than getting someone interested, involved, and engaged in research.”
Even though the student researchers are usually not going to get their studies published in an academic journal, these researchers have an opportunity to make a difference with their findings. For example, every summer approximately twenty researchers go to Jefferson City to present their finding to lawmakers. “We work with the students to take their posters, turn those posters into something that very accessible to the public and elected officials,” Blockus explains. “This is our way of reminding the state officials of some of the things we do, and the special ways we are adding value to student experiences here at MU.”
Some of the images that people have about research include laboratories, as well as boring and solitary confinement. Well, Blockus tries to dispel some of these misconceptions. These undergraduate researchers have an opportunity to work one-on-one with researchers from a variety of countries (including Pakistan, South Korea, Australia, England, and Israel). “It really helps broaden their understanding of how science is a global experience” says Blockus. “The students are really working in a team environment, learning how to interact with other people on projects.”
Student researchers have an opportunity to present their research at academic conferences across the country. Not only do they get to expose their work to a new audience, but they can also observe other projects outside of MU. “There are plenty of opportunities for students to see what’s happening not only in their own research group, but also in other research groups,” Blockus says. In the past, undergraduate researchers have traveled to major cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. “That’s a really neat experience,” she explains, “whether it is interacting with other scholars on campus or with scholars across the country or world.”
Graduate students are often required to spend a good portion of their education as researchers. The Undergraduate Research program at MU offers students a preview of what graduate school is all about. Blockus explains that the summer research program is helpful to students considering graduate education: “Students who do research in the summer get a real taste of that so they can confirm that that’s what they want to do.” The undergraduate students regularly work with professors, scholars, and post-doctorate fellows during the course of their research.
The undergraduate research experience is a unique opportunity. Blockus reports that aside from preparing students for graduate school, research is a growth experience in which students will be “perhaps encountering some of the same frustrations, challenges, and problems as well as some of the same successes and accomplishments.” She observes that students “learn from each other, feed off of each other, and hopefully form friendships as well.” Blockus herself is living proof of the power of research on a young mind. As a college student she spent a summer working for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, OARDC, a “very valuable experience.”