Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2020

Make it work for students

This page was developed by Carol Bascom-Slack (Tufts University) and Lori Hensley (Jacksonville State University).

Student success can look different for different students. Be sure that your CURE is serving students' needs as well as programmatic ones.

Integrate the CURE into students' required curriculum

A critical part of achieving buy-in from students is ensuring that participating in the CURE helps them make progress towards their degree. Course credit is a requirement, not a benefit. If participating in a CURE requires "extra" work, then participation will be inequitable, excluding students who cannot fit in "extra" coursework for a variety of reasons. Removing barriers to student participation and integrating the CURE with their requirements increases student interest and involvement. If CUREs are integrated into pre-existing courses, then they will fulfill the degree requirements that the course was already fulfilling. CUREs that are stand-alone courses require careful consideration of how they help students progress towards their degree.

At UT Austin, the initial FRI pilot group was filled by self-selected students, which resulted in a distribution of students that highlighted the issues with the risk groups of our college. Advertising the benefits of research to students and integrating degree requirements has resulted in much more equitable and diverse participation. The CURE experience is two semesters; in the first semester, students earn an introductory lab credit that fulfills a major requirement for almost all STEM majors. The second semester is a research course credit that can be applied to degree requirements. When the university introduced a series of "skills & experience" requirements, known as "flags," the FRI program quickly integrated with these requirements. Courses that fulfilled a substantial number of these key skills were designated with flags (e.g., "Writing Flag", "Independent Inquiry Flag", etc.). Students are required to complete a certain number of flag courses and many FRI streams have applied for and received flag designations, providing another mechanism to provide course credit value for their FRI experience.
At Santa Rosa Junior College, instructors have swapped out other assignments within a pre-existing course. Thus, integrating the CURE did not add any additional work or change their path to fulfilling their degree requirements

In addition to fulfilling degree requirements, CURE initiatives should make sure that students do not face any "penalties" for trying these new, challenging experiences. CURE instructors should think carefully about how students are assessed so that grading schemes match goals (e.g., students are not penalized for taking risks and encountering failure).

FRI switched to criterion-referenced grading instead of normative grading to eliminate the sense of competition for grades and to avoid penalizing students for trying high-risk and difficult activities inherent to research.

Highlight relevance of the research to students' lives, local communities, and broader scientific community

Students are most invested in CUREs when they see that the work they are doing in their CURE has practical relevance. Students like to feel that their work matters and is contributing to something bigger than themselves or their classroom.

In the Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment CURE, multiple classrooms combine their data into a larger, collective dataset. In self-report surveys, students indicate interest in the project, specifically they like knowing that they are contributing to a national project.
The SIRIUS Project at Sacramento State revolves around a river that runs through campus; many students, who generally come from the surrounding communities, have grown up knowing about and interacting with the river. Some of the classes collect their own samples at the river, which further demonstrates the authenticity and relevance of the work they are performing. The program has created a common message that faculty communicate at the beginning of each semester, across all of the SIRIUS courses, illustrating to students where their work falls within the SIRIUS Project and how their work has the potential to contribute to the overall program. This message emphasizes the big picture and communicates the importance of the project to their education, the scientific community, and their local environment.

Relate CUREs to students' career readiness

Students want to know how their education, and their CURE, will help them be marketable and successful in their future careers. Through participating in research, students have the opportunity to develop many important skills, such as leadership, teamwork, interdisciplinary thinking, dealing with failure, and specific research-related skills that are of interest to employers. The National Association of Colleges and Employers' (NACE) Core Competencies are a good starting point for CURE initiatives to think about the skills that students should develop.

Nearly all CUREs involve group work to some extent, which gives students the opportunity to learn to work with and solve problems as a team. Many CUREs are also set up in a way that gives students the opportunity to step into leadership positions, for example by returning to the course in a later semester as a teaching assistant or peer mentor.

In the Vertically Integrated Projects program, students work on teams over two or more years and more experienced students take on leadership roles. These students engage in a variety of leadership responsibilities, such as training and mentoring newer team members.
In the Cell Biology Education Consortium, students who have completed a CURE return as peer mentors. This practice is great for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is immensely beneficial for the peer mentors themselves.

Learning to view a problem through an interdisciplinary lens is becoming increasingly important to solving problems in almost any career in any field. Research often demands the input of multiple perspectives to solve difficult problems, so participating in CUREs gives students a chance to practice thinking this way.

Vertically Integrated Projects teams are typically interdisciplinary (this is strongly encouraged by the program), so students get experience thinking about problems from multiple perspectives.
At Santa Rosa Junior College, an economics class collected data and partnered with a statistics class to run analyses.

Failure is inescapable in research and students who participate in CUREs are typically confronted with myriad failures and setbacks. Learning to persevere through challenges is a key skill to success in any walk of life.

Instructors of the Biochemistry Authentic Scientific Inquiry Lab (BASIL) have noted that students sometimes become frustrated and discouraged by the lack of success at intermediate points during the term. The instructors help coach students through these challenges and encourage students to think about "possible answers" rather than "right answers" in the context of research.

In many cases, students in CUREs develop skills that are directly relevant to the workforce. This is especially common when CUREs form a partnership with corporations to achieve common goals.

Some of the Freshman Research Initiative streams and Vertically Integrated Projects teams are supported by industry partnerships. In these courses, the students are working on problems related to the company's business and in the process are developing skills and expertise that make them attractive to the partnered company and their competitors.

Create opportunities for student ownership

Many theories of motivation note that the importance of allowing students to develop a sense of autonomy of their work. Student sense of project ownership can be measured using the Project Ownership Survey (Hanauer & Dolan, 2017). CUREs can increase students' sense of ownership and autonomy by finding ways to let students make decisions that guide the work. The amount of flexibility will depend on the context of the institution and the instructor as well as the design of the CURE. Opportunities for ownership and autonomy can range from having students select among research topics and make small choices in the research to giving them substantial control over the design and future directions of the research.

In the Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment CURE, students get to choose the site they collect their samples from. Additionally, because the project lends itself to follow-up work, many students choose to continue their projects outside the classroom under the guidance of the CURE instructor, which affords them a much greater opportunity to make decisions guiding the research.
In the Cell Biology Education Consortium CURE, students are given limited options in the design of their project, such as choosing the cell line they want to use within the framework of the CURE. At the end of the semester, students brainstorm next steps in the project and those ideas are used to guide research in the subsequent semesters.
In the Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin, students choose from a menu of CURE course options by "touring" ~30 different CUREs and selecting the one they are most of interest.
In one of the upper-level CUREs in the SIRIUS program at Sacramento State, students propose and carry out their own project, which involves conducting literature searches and writing and getting feedback on a pre-proposal and then a full proposal.

Communicate benefits to students and their families

Students need to be aware of all the ways that CURE participation can benefit them in order to be motivated to engage. Some CUREs have launched robust, large-scale communication campaigns to make sure that all students are aware of the benefits of participating in research, not just students who have the social network and capital to access undergraduate research internships. One particularly powerful way of reaching students from underserved backgrounds is to engage their families, who may be concerned that their student is "wasting their time" taking non-standard courses or courses don't appear directly related to a particular career path.

The Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin recruits freshmen during their orientation. They created a series of questions in the orientation survey asking process questions – whether they liked to build, repair, invent, or prove things – and used these questions to help target recruiting, offering positions in the program specifically to at-risk students whose answers to these questions indicated an innate interest. The program has also modified orientation talks with families to explain how research can be beneficial for diverse career paths and to answer questions that help assuage family concerns that a CURE may be a distraction from necessary coursework.