Freshman Research Initiative must challenge undergraduate researchers

Khadija Saifullah

The University’s College of Natural Sciences’ Freshman Research Initiative is the nation’s largest program focused on connecting first-year college students to meaningful scientific research. It is unique to the University and gives undergraduate underclassmen the opportunity to join a lab and collaborate to enable it to function smoothly.

However, more often than not, undergraduates are merely given a few tasks without looking at the big picture of the potential of their participation. Therefore, most students are excluded from a potentially transformative opportunity.

This gap should be addressed by the leadership of science professionals, who can organize for undergraduates to be taught the theory behind a lab’s projects and then take over the reins. When given the opportunity, undergraduates have more potential than merely washing test tubes and organizing a graduate student’s lab space.

Research is an integral part of an undergraduate STEM career. It is an opportunity to actively contribute to the world of science, while allowing students to come up with their own solutions to open-ended questions can foster creativity in the classroom.

In order to foster the integral skills of problem solving, underclassmen deserve to be given more opportunities to become involved in the technical performance of a lab. This “professionalizing” experience has the potential to transform student lives. Pharmacy graduate student Irnela Bajrovic worked on developing a new form of oral vaccine delivery to protect against the lethal disease Ebola during her time as an undergraduate. Aside from the fascinating potential of this project, Bajrovic was also awed by the scientific and humanitarian features of her project.

“Being involved with a project that could transform the lives of many underprivileged communities made me realize the importance of research,” Bajrovic said. “It gives you the opportunity to make a difference, but more importantly, it allows you the opportunity to change the world on a global scale.”

To be consistent with the 21st century learning movement of independence in thought and application of classroom knowledge to real life and to improve undergraduate education. Creating opportunities for students to work in projects in a lab is a logical extension of applied classroom learning as well as a faster way to become familiarized with aspects of science.

Early-college scientific research has proven to improve analytical and technical skills as well as boost students’ confidence in the application of their classroom education to real life, according to the American Society for Cell Biology. The process of articulating a research goal, designing a plan of action and sharing your results with a larger audience will develop skills that continue to serve you throughout your professional life.

Saifullah is a neuroscience sophomore from Richardson. Follow her on Twitter @coolstorysunao.