The Role of Graduate Student Teaching Experiences in the Development of Scientific Research Skills

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This research is supported by the following grant from The National Science Foundation: The Role of Graduate Student Teaching Experiences in the Development of Scientific Research Skills (Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering; DRL #0723686)

Purpose

The purpose of this project is to investigate the impacts of inquiry-based science teaching experiences on the development of STEM graduate students as researchers.  An array of quantitative and qualitative data sources assess the longitudinal trajectory and magnitude of participants changes in teaching and research skills.  It is expected that graduate students participating in both inquiry-focused teaching experiences and advisor-directed research experiences will demonstrate greater growth in scientific reasoning and research design skills than those lacking either experience.  Participants represent a broad range of graduate experiences related to the sciences and engineering.  They will include: NSF Graduate Fellowship recipients (research only), students with departmental Research Assistantships (research only), NSF GK-12 Fellows and institutional equivalents (research and teaching), students with departmental Teaching Assistantships (teaching and research), and students earning degrees in math and science education (teaching only).  Data from the first year of the project provides tentative support for this hypothesis.

The project is expanding current understandings of the relationship between teaching scientific inquiry and performing research.  Meta-analyses of research to date indicate no correlation between teaching and research publications for faculty in science disciplines.  However, this result does not inform the value of teaching for the development of research skills in graduate students.  Faculty members are more likely than graduate students to have reached the apex of their research skill development, so changes in teaching load or student ratings do not vary with changes in skill level.  Further, these meta-analyses did not differentiate between pedagogical approaches or control for the level of overlap between research agenda and course content.  Because the current study entails closer examinations of change in individuals skill relative to the cognitive elements of teaching and research training activities, it is well-positioned (1) to identify practices that contribute uniquely to quantifiable changes in performance quality and (2) to ground those practices in a strong theoretical framework of cognition.

The broader impact of this project exists at multiple levels of STEM education and training.  First, it provides evidence of the merit and effectiveness of teaching opportunities for graduate students pursuing careers in research.  Attaining and disseminating the expected results of this project will inform the design of comprehensive STEM graduate experiences to advance human resource development in the preparation of outstanding research scientists and engineers.  Further, the existence of a synergistic relationship between teaching and research (rather than an adversarial one) may facilitate a shift within university-based STEM cultures toward viewing teaching as a valuable endeavor.  As faculty and graduate teaching assistants see greater value and utility in inquiry-based pedagogical methods, a concomitant investment in effective instruction would ultimately enhance the university experiences of a large, diverse population of undergraduate and graduate STEM majors, resulting in higher retention across both traditional and underrepresented subpopulations.

Associated Faculty

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