Letter to the Editor: Freshman Research Initiative is intellectually engaging program

Erin Dolan

Testimonies I hear each day about the Freshman Research Initiative show that it is an example of the intellectually engaging, hands-on research experience that Khadija Saifullah calls for. Students who have been in the program talk about the transformative educational and professional experiences they got through FRI.

FRI is meaningful and useful for students, and we have the data that shows this. Participation in FRI increases students’ likelihood of graduating with a STEM major, graduating with a higher GPA and successfully matriculating into graduate or medical school. More than 140 FRI students have been co-authors on peer-reviewed publications of their research, and many more present their work in research symposia and conferences. These are quintessential “professionalizing” experiences that are available to students precisely because of FRI.

Research experiences should support students in understanding how their work fits into the larger research endeavor and in engaging them centrally in the processes of research. All scientists move from collecting and analyzing data to testing their own hypotheses, building their own models and posing their own research questions. As the director of the Texas Institute of Discovery Education in Science and the editor of CBE–Life Sciences Education, I know that UT is one of the few universities anywhere that offers this opportunity to large numbers of freshmen. We are doing such a good job of it that other institutions are now replicating the program.

Affording students opportunities to engage in the real, relevant, creative, and meaningful work of science is precisely what the FRI does. Thousands of students who are alumni of FRI can attest to that.

Dolan is the Executive Director for Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science.