Early Research Participation (ERP)
"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945)
"I learn by going where I have to go." -- from The Waking by Theodore Roethke, American Poet (1908-1963)
"The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds." -- John Glenn, American hero (1921-2016)
Early Research is defined as authentic research done before graduate school by high school, community college and early college (freshmen and sophomores) students in curricular or non-curricular settings. As indicated in The Power and Promise of Early Research (DOI: 10.1021/bk-2016-1231), we believe:
“.... that our young men and women, 18-24, across the United States can contribute to finding scientific and technological solutions to societal challenges. We can enlist them to combat diseases and addictions, to find alternative energy solutions, to create new materials for new industries, or to address the scientific and technological challenges of, for example, urbanization, healthcare, security, privacy, resource scarcity and climate change. We believe they will rise to, and even exceed, our expectations if we imagine research differently: early, often and universal.”
A fundamental guiding principle of BEST Early is early engagement of students in the research, discovery and innovation process. Simply put, we believe that students do not require four years of high school and four years of college before they are engaged in authentic research.
There is no valid reason why students who drive cars, use computers, excel at video games, and navigate a host of modern twenty-first century technologies cannot also recrystallize solids, rotovap solvents, reflux reactions, separate mixtures, or operate infrared, Raman, UV-Vis and NMR instruments.
The conventional approach and attitude about when students can participate in real research is outdated in today’s global innovation economy. It simply makes good sense, in a global economy dominated by science and technology, that actively engaging students as early as possible in research is not only smart educational practice but also a sustainable economic and prudent workforce development policy.
Early research participation facilitates a host of desirable and needed outcomes, such as,
(a) building the STEM workforce,
(b) capturing the most innovative and productive years of the human life span,
(c) increasing investments in young ‘homegrown’ researchers rather than foreign post-docs,
(d) providing an avenue for seamless transitions and interactions between secondary and tertiary science education, and
(e) facilitating a sustainable culture of innovation, discovery and development.
Our two major approaches to early research participation involve (a) curricular research during an independent research period (IRP) and (b) the non-curricular summer research period (SRP). Both have built-in systems of accountability: academic grades for the IRP and paychecks for SRP.
COMPARATIVE VALUE OF AN EARLY RESEARCH GRADE 12 COURSE
Conventional High School: Mainly lecture; few labs; ‘stand alone, one-size-fits-all, cookbook’ labs; ‘dry labbing’ possible; passive memorization
Early Research Course: Mainly labs (75%, 12/16 semester weeks); 25% task (research) specific lectures.
Integrated, continuous; critical thinking & analysis needed prior to next lab; students engage in forming, testing and modifying hypothesis. ‘dry labbing’ impossible.
Research projects change annually. ‘Feeder’ projects for undergraduate, graduate and collaborative, interdisciplinary research.
Learning by doing, hands-on, active, observing, measuring, interpreting, documenting, and reporting.
Conventional High School: Evaluation: traditional tests and quizzes
Early Research Course: Evaluation: topical worksheets, lab performance, lab notebooks, oral presentations, poster presentations, lab demonstrations, technical final report, research video, newspaper article, research symposium.
Conventional High School: Instrumentation: generally unavailable, esp. in urban & rural schools
Early Research Course: Utilizes state-of-the-art modern instrumentation & equipment, such as, NMR, IR, UV-Vis and rotovap. Diversity of college-level lab techniques used including reflux, solvent-solvent extraction, and vacuum filtration.
Conventional High School: Feedback: typical (grades)
Early Research Course: Positive responses from students, colleagues, parents, elected officials and administrators; awards and recognitions received; media coverage.