John Watkins, University of Warwick
President Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently released a report entitled 'Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics' (PCAST, 2012). The authors report a rather startling statistic: the United States could be facing a shortfall of over one million graduates in the sciences if university programmes there continue to train young scientists at their current rate.
The evidence for this shortfall shows that this is not merely due to a lack of genuine interest on the part of young students, nor is it a problem relating to their aptitude. It appears that many with a clear passion and record of achievement in the sciences leave for other endeavours because of a lack of opportunity to engage at an early point in their academic careers with frontline research alongside their regular academic work (Handelsman, 2012). Involving students in research early on in their degree not only raises their achievement in their routine academic studies (Kinkel et al., 2006) but it keeps students engaged with their subject and inspires them to develop research interests of their own on a journey towards a future career in research. Furthermore, a study by the National Science Foundation found that undergraduate students who take part actively in research, rather than relying solely on just the practical elements of their course, were more likely to continue with their subject and pursue careers in science (Russel et al., 2007).
Though the US may have been the first to recognise this, the UK too is realising that the current paradigm needs to change. At the University of Warwick, students are fortunate to have access to initiatives such as the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme (URSS) which encourages early involvement in research through funding students in summer research projects. Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research provides the opportunity for students throughout the UK to publish a research paper for the first time. These types of tools will allow the UK to develop keen students early on and ensure they have an outlet for their talent.
Through my own personal research experience at Warwick, I have become a strong supporter of staff-student collaboration and co-authorship, and outlets such as the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) and Reinvention promote a key change in the university research philosophy to one that is more inclusive for students. Many often quietly ask, 'but what difference can undergraduates really make?' To this I say that undergraduate research can be, and has been proven to be, quite sophisticated. For example, at Johns Hopkins University in the US, a group of seven undergraduate students together developed an 'oral strip' for delivering a vaccine against the rotavirus (European Molecular Biology organization, 2007) one of the causes of diarrhoea and vomiting in infants. This novel way of administering the vaccine meant the students had overcome costly barriers, such as refrigeration and transportation of the live vaccine, which limit its widespread use in poor and remote regions.
With all of this in mind, it therefore gives me great pleasure to introduce the following conference proceedings from BCUR 2014. The research papers presented in this special issue of Reinvention are different from the articles that we normally publish, in that they reflect the proceedings of a conference rather than being peer-reviewed academic research papers. They also represent a wide range of disciplines and subject areas. In her article, Myriam Vanderzwalmen investigates the importance of 'parentage versus environment' on the heterochrony of the Basommatophoran snail. Ryan Lloyd evaluates continental deformation in Eastern Turkey using InSAR and GPS. Sean Perry investigates the interaction between cardiac and respiratory dynamics on various respiratory frequencies, while Kayode Damali looks at whether motivational videos can affect self-efficacy and muscular endurance during exercise. Christopher Alexander delves into the axioms of morality and ethics in 'negative utilitarianism' in his article, while Louisa Ostachinni looks at Golding's translation of Ovidian Bird Lore. Finally, Emma Hardiman provides a fresh perspective in the value and function of medieval manuscripts and Hoe Seung Kwon looks at the 'excess co-movement of fine wine and commodity prices'.
In all of these works, and many others that I have helped to mentor during my time at Reinvention, I have seen how undergraduates bring new insights and fresh perspectives to the teams in which they have worked, while simultaneously exploring for themselves what a career in research involves; a mutually beneficial compromise. Therefore, on a final note, I will leave you with the words of Eugene Braunwald, an eminent American Cardiologist, who once said:
For a satisfying career in research, it should be regarded as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end (promotion, salary, power); all of these usually come naturally to a successful investigator…the principal rewards from a research career involve experiencing the thrill of the chase and the (very occasional) joy of discovering something new that turns out to be important (Braunwald, 2009).
I believe it is this thrill that motivates so many students to choose voluntarily to pursue undergraduate projects, on the road to becoming the prolific researchers of the future, and what I believe has motivated the authors of the papers we proudly present here in the 2014 BCUR Special Issue of Reinvention.
PCAST (2012), 'Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics', available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-engage-to-excel-final_2-25-12.pdf, accessed 27 October 2014
Handelsman, J. (2012), 'Dedicated to Winning the Future through Undergraduate Research', DNA and Cell Biology, 31 (6), 891–2
Kinkel, D. H., S. E. Henke (2006), 'Impact of Undergraduate Research on Academic Performance, Educational Planning, and Career Development', Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, 35: 194–201
Russell, S. H., M. P. Hancock and J. Mccullough (2007), 'The Pipeline: benefits of undergraduate research experiences', Science, 316: 548–49
European Molecular Biology organization (2007), 'Undergraduate research Winning the battle for students' hearts and minds', EMBO Reports, 8 (8), 717–9
Braunwald, E. (2009), 'Adventures in cardiovascular research', Circulation, 120, 170–80
To cite this paper please use the following details: Watkins, J. (2014), 'Editorial: The Journey to becoming a Researcher', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, BCUR 2014 Special Issue, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/bcur2014specialissue/editorial/ Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.