Centers of Early Research

The vision is creation of Centers of Early Research (CER) across the Caribbean that will provide opportunities for students to engage in and conduct authentic research sooner than traditionally done. These CERs are envisioned as 'incubators of innovators' that nurtures secondary school and college students in research experiences across multiple disciplines before graduate school.

It is anticipated that CERs would create a seamless research innovation infrastructure in the Caribbean that maximizes talent, enhances productivity, builds human capacity, leverages existing creativity and simultaneously embeds a culture of curiosity and critical thinking.

Specific potential impacts of early research, as it develops in future years, includes (a) early involvement of students in research starting at the secondary level, (b) seamless integration of research into the science curriculum at the secondary and tertiary levels (c) training secondary (4th to 6th Form) and tertiary level science teachers to incorporate original laboratory/field research into their classroom and curriculum, (d) nurturing local professionals for productive scientific research and technological development, (e) providing students with early opportunities to utilize modern research methods and instrumentation in addressing local needs (e.g. health, HIV/AIDS, agriculture, manufacturing, forensics and environmental), (f) providing students with early opportunities to create value-added, downstream products and processes from local raw materials (e.g. petroleum, natural gas, asphalt, agricultural products and herbal medicines) and (g) establishment of research centers across the Caribbean that meets both national and regional development needs, in terms of both human and material resources. 

Early research is also a corrective and intervention strategy for the continuing colonial legacy of education that focused on creating dependent populations in supportive rather than leadership roles in society. Colonialism fostered a culture of consumption of foreign goods and services rather than one that valued the generation of indigenous knowledge, utilization of local resources and development of local innovators of products, processes and services. Colonial education was not interested in building nations of peoples that were self-determining and self-governing. Teaching to the tests and rote memorization were much more highly valued educationally and socially than inquiry, discovery, independent thought, critical thinking and research. Labs were taught mostly in the context of confirming known facts rather than making new discoveries or teaching new marketable skills. In contrast, early research is an educational approach conducive to building viable, democratic, independent and civil societies and nation states.

The vision for CERs across the Caribbean comes out of almost 20 years of practical experience of mentoring over 1,000 students in early research in both curricula and extracurricular settings, and in both course-based and individual student arrangements. It is also a follow-up to the recent peer-reviewed book, The Power and Promise of Early Research (http://www.bestearly.com/earlyresearchbook) published electronically by the American Chemical Society Symposium Books and coming soon in hardcopy from Oxford University Press. It contains 13 chapters by 33 authors and co-authors representing the educational spectrum spanning the secondary and tertiary levels and cross-demographics of race, gender, age, academics, profession, geography and socioeconomics. Included are Chapter 13 LabTales from students describing their early research experiences in their own words.

A vast, growing and sound body of knowledge about human brain development and chemistry, neurosciences and cognitive and learning sciences substantiates and validates our early research paradigm. It strongly suggests that delaying student engagement and experiences in authentic research is outmoded pedagogically, shortsighted economically and is wasteful of invaluable human potential and capital. Over the last 30 years many high powered panels and reports have recommended the replacement of standard lab courses with discovery-based research courses. There are also quantitative studies that provides evidence that early research increases student success and retention. There are also trends indicating that students themselves, at both the secondary and tertiary levels, are increasingly interested, proactively seeking out and engaging in authentic research experiences.