One aspect of higher education that I feel is missing is the connection between the research and the teaching. Obviously there are more things missing, but when it comes to my own personal engagement in my studies, it is safe to say that I wasn’t considering graduate school until I took a class on research, which completely flipped my world upside down. And it wasn’t until after I started to look into graduate school and started challenging myself with upper level courses that I realized where all of our information comes from, which is primary research that is translated into peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Had one of my professors handed me a scientific publication during the first semester of my freshman year I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. First off, I wouldn’t have recognized the formatting of the paper so I wouldn’t have understood the difference between the abstract and the introduction or why the discussion is even important. Secondly, I would have tried to read the first few paragraphs, failed at understanding the message, and then felt stupid for not understanding. And here is where I think the problem lies; there is a fine line as a professor where you may expose undergraduates to primary research and they understand the concepts or they completely miss the point.
Carson and Miller from North Carolina State University reported on a successful way to engage first year undergraduate students with research, which involved incremental steps of exposing undergraduates to primary scientific literature through journal clubs, helping them to understand what they’re reading, and essentially adding more responsibility to the students until they were capable of successfully working on their own project and utilizing their new ability to read scientific literature critically to help them do so.
Kozeracki and colleagues also showcased the importance of engaging undergraduates (not first year students) with scientific literature and how the increased confidence that comes from understanding scientific literature and the subsequent ability to use this information to help one’s own study is of vital importance for future success in academic or professional careers.
I can personally agree with both of these studies, which enforce the necessity of controlled exposure of scientific literature to undergraduates. I can honestly say that I wasn’t genuinely engaged in my future after my undergraduate education until I took a class centered on research during my sophomore year at Ohio State. During that class I realized the importance of research, how interesting it can be, why we need to perform research in order to better understand our ever changing world, etc… I will always attribute where I’m at today to that class and how it exposed me to research, and I think it is of the utmost importance that higher education tries to engage students to think about research, scientific literature, and how that relates to what they’re learning in the classroom. At the moment, too much of it is reliant on the student to go out and do most of the searching on their own, but I think that is where more professors should step in, reach out, and bring in more students on their own.