Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education > Panel 4

Panel 4

How Should We Integrate Research and Education?

Lori Bettison-Varga (Chair),
Robert Burger,
John Creasy,
Darby Dyar,
Paul Knight,
Tamara Shapiro Ledley,
Dean McManus


  • Research and teaching are not separate endeavors but part of the same effort to understand the Earth system.
  • Interdisciplinary research and educational activities must be included in developing an Earth system science curriculum.
  • Research informs education and, in turn, education itself drives research.
  • Research is a continuum across the curricular experience.
  • All students in all Earth system science courses, at all levels, at all types of institutions should engage in research as defined below.
  • Federal, university, and college agendas should have integration of education and research as their highest priority


Integrating research and education is a powerful means by which to provide students with the skills in problem solving and critical thinking that will be necessary for their successful navigation of the workplace in the 21st century. Research provides the opportunity for students not just to learn about science but to do science. Without such experiences, students gain knowledge but little practical experience in applying concepts and methodology that is fundamental to scientific work. Research experiences provide students with a greater understanding of scientific investigation, increases their scientific literacy, and promotes free thinking and creative approaches to problem solving.

What is meant by student and faculty research may differ, so it is helpful to work with a definition of research that is purposely broad. Student research is defined as inquiry-based study, discovery, or rediscovery resulting in original contribution. The various components of student research include hypothesis formulation, collection and use of real-time data and other research materials to test hypotheses, and analysis of data in individual or group settings. This definition of student research is deliberately broad to encompass multiple levels of discovery that are content and task appropriate.

Experiential learning occurs in and out of the classroom, through specifically designed laboratory experiences to summer research experiences in academic, industrial, or government settings. Inquiry-based exercises can be developed at all levels of the curriculum, from the introductory course to a senior capstone research project.

Faculty research entails both research in Earth and space science, including projects investigating physical and human/societal impact; and research on educational methods, including investigation of student learning of concepts in Earth science, teaching methods, cooperative learning, and classroom assessments. Educational research also includes the analysis of the difficulties that students have in thinking about and reasoning with Earth science concepts to approach a problem or conduct scientific research.

What is the value of integrating research and education? For the student, research activities promote excitement in Earth science, scientific literacy, and critical reasoning. Students who are able to put scientific concepts and facts into practice through research have a better understanding of the processes and the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge. Self-responsibility and a sense of ownership of a project are natural outcomes of the research experience; this enhances students' competence and confidence and allows for additional assessment of their skills and abilities.

For faculty, research informs teaching, keeps curriculum current, and improves pedagogical outcome. Faculty research leads to a sense of professional continuation and intellectual growth. Undergraduate research students enrich classrooms and increase a faculty member's connection with students.

For academic institutions, student research increases prestige and visibility and is helpful to the recruitment and retention of undergraduates. Faculty who value the teacher/scholar model will be attracted to and retained by institutions that promote the integration of research and education. Collaborative partnerships and opportunities with government organizations, industry, and other two-to-four-year colleges, research institutions, and the community are opened and encouraged by student research activities. Furthermore, the research process promotes interdisciplinary interaction between departments and encourages conversation about the educational mission of the institution.

The willingness to explore the unknown and the excitement about challenging and open-ended investigation stem from research experiences. Academic institutions and faculty must place their efforts in the development of discovery-based exercises across the curriculum to allow students to develop these important characteristics and, in turn, to stimulate new faculty research directions as informed by teaching Earth system science.


The process of discovery is essential to successful research programs as well as the basis for good teaching and learning. Effective programs in Earth science education will integrate research experiences into educational activities at all levels, to the mutual benefit of both enterprises. We recommend:

To Faculty

  1. Encourage students at all levels to get involved in research:
    • Incorporate professorial research into courses, through lecturing and developing laboratories using research outcomes and instrumentation/techniques;
    • Inform students about the value of research; talk about student research in courses; inform students of research and funding opportunities; provide space for student research; create a research group environment; encourage student presentations of results to departments and institutions; support student attendance at meetings with departmental or institutional funds; encourage students to publish.
  2. Value colleagues who sponsor undergraduate research and education-based research; seek out colleagues within your department or from other departments; and secure resources to develop Earth system science research and education.
  3. Work with administration to promote undergraduate research.
  4. Actively seek sources of funding for undergraduate research; explicitly state the educational impact and human resource development component in the statement of significance for every grant proposal. (Joint recommendation with Panel 7)
  5. Establish and maintain contacts with alumni and others in industry and government agencies to help support undergraduate research experiences.
  6. Communicate with legislators and invite them to departments and campuses to see the value added for students and science by integrating research and education.

To Administrators

Faculty Professional Development (Joint Recommendations with Panel 5)
  1. Provide incentives for faculty involvement with undergraduate research such as promotion and tenure, released time for curricular development, and counting involvement with undergraduate research in teaching load.
  2. Provide funds to support subscription to research journals and membership in professional organizations.
  3. Encourage science departments to work with education departments to combine the talents of both faculty to produce better disciplinary research and science education research.

Faculty and Student Resources

  1. Provide institutional funds, and facilitate efforts to obtain external funding (e.g., matching funds, grant preparation) in support of students and faculty who undertake undergraduate research experiences.
  2. Provide funds for start-up costs, research equipment, and space required to conduct undergraduate research.
  3. Support the use of undergraduate teaching assistants.
  4. Provide funds for student travel to meetings.
  5. Develop partnerships with industry and other organizations; encourage department heads to have scientists from industry and government agencies visit campus.
  6. Recognize students involved in research and publicize the outcomes of undergraduate research.
  7. Create an alumni office or departmental records of Earth system science graduates and send updates on programs and current undergraduate research.

To NSF and Other Funding Sources

  1. Fund proposals supporting undergraduate research:
    • Redefine proposal format to include educational impact as review criteria and increase assessment of educational outcomes;
    • review and assess existing programs for consistency in outcome and goals; and
    • distribute funds for integrated education and research to institutions where undergraduates are located.
  2. Develop awards that recognize excellence in integration of research and education. All academic institutions should be eligible for these awards.
  3. Provide travel funds and technical support to optimize undergraduate use of existing research instrumentation and equipment.
  4. Publish a directory of the research facilities available to undergraduate students; include information on location, facilities, application procedures, and contact information.
  5. Provide funds for equipment and supplies to be used by undergraduates in courses, independent study, and collaborative research.
  6. Provide funds for research on educational methods and student learning in Earth system science.

To Industry and Government

  1. Provide opportunities for internships and job shadowing for undergraduates.
  2. Provide funding for undergraduate research experiences both on campus and at companies; share equipment; underwrite the dissemination of the outcomes of student research.
  3. Sponsor presentations by industry scientists at academic institutions perhaps as a visiting lecture series.
  4. Develop outreach programs, to two-year and four-year institutions in particular, to establish connection between industry scientists and academic faculty. (Joint recommendation with Panel 6)
  5. Make research data and software available for undergraduate research.
  6. Work with professional societies, such as Sigma Gamma Epsilon and the Council on Undergraduate Research, on their initiatives to promote undergraduate research.

To Educational and Scientific Organizations

  1. Publicize sources for funding to faculty, especially at two-year and four-year institutions. Establish undergraduate web pages that publicize research opportunities, travel to professional meetings, and other items of interest to undergraduates. (Joint recommendation with Panel 6)
  2. Offer theme sessions on integrating research and education at meetings. Continue to reduce fees and increase travel support for students to attend meetings.
  3. Interface across disciplines to find databases and software useable in undergraduate research and teaching of Earth system science.
  4. Publish curricular materials such as laboratory manuals, textbooks, and CD-ROMS.
  5. Institute national awards for excellence for integrating research in education.