Creation of a collegial network between researchers and undergraduate students at The University of Queensland.

Kirsten Farrand, Paula Myatt

Abstract


It is widely believed that authentic research experiences in science are pivotal in providing context to undergraduate student learning and providing a true sense of what it means to be a 'scientist' (Boyer Report, 1998, Healey & Jenkin,s 2009). Research intensive universities might be expected to have the greatest potential for involving students in authentic research (Turner, Wuetherick & Healey, 2008), however, their students often feel alienated from the research culture (Zamorski, 2002), and frustrated when their participation in the authentic research activities of the university are delayed (Robertson & Blacker, 2006). Therefore universities, and research-intensive universities in particular, are being expected to develop strategies for welcoming students into their research culture during the early undergraduate years.

An innovative model for introducing first year undergraduate science students to the research culture of a large research-intensive university has been implemented at The University of Queensland (UQ). The Undergraduate Science Students’ Experience in Research (USSER) Network invites large numbers of undergraduate science students from their first semester at university, to meet with UQ researchers over lunch, tour research facilities on campus, and gain access to the daily workings of research groups through flexible placements.

Following the establishment of the USSER Network in March 2008, approximately 170 students have had lunch with over 40 researchers, and approximately 40 students have toured three research facilities. Eighteen research groups have offered work experience placement opportunities, and ten students have undertaken placements in the first or second year of their degree. Participating students and researchers have reported that the USSER Network provides excellent networking opportunities, with a key feature of the program being the small group format of the lunches. Students have expressed overwhelming gratitude for the informal opportunities to talk with researchers, and discover more about the diversity of research being conducted at their institution and the research-based career paths available to them. To foster the growth of the authentic research experience aspect of the USSER Network program in 2009, Placement Workshops have been implemented, with fourteen students participating thus far. In addition, there has been a large amount of interest in the USSER Network across the University, and the planning phase is underway to disseminate the USSER Network model to several research disciplines across UQ.

This paper will introduce the key features of this innovative networking program, highlight the successes and plans for improvement of the model, and provide mechanisms for the generalisation of this model beyond science.

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