Reflecting on Course-Based Undergraduate Research (CUREs)
by Buffie Longmire-Avital
Bangera and Brownell (2014) lay out a compelling list of barriers students encounter while attempting to engage in undergraduate research. The authors also argue that, given the institutional nature of some of these barriers (e.g., implicit bias or lack of awareness of cultural norms associated with research), many of these obstacles may prevent some students from even entertaining the idea of participating in research with a faculty member. Bangera and Brownell use this list to illustrate how the traditional methods for recruiting students into research labs recreates privilege and reinforces social hierarchies that favor students for whom access and equity has never been a historical concern. Further, this widely accepted approach unintentionally insures that students with knowledge and access to this critical high impact practice will receive the benefits and advance their likelihood of going to graduate school as well as re-entering academia as researchers and professors themselves.
Bangera and Brownell feel the “solution to this bottleneck” (pg. 604) is to reexamine the entry point for engaging in research. The selection or audition that faculty engage in to find their latest apprentice is bound to these barriers and thus will not move the field of emerging researchers into a critical space of equity. Instead, Bangera and Brownell posit that students need course-based undergraduate research experiences (i.e, CUREs).
CUREs are defined by five frameworks to guarantee that each student has a genuine research experience; an experience that would stimulate growth and curiosity entails:
- Engaging students in scientific (or relevant discipline) practices.
- This collaboration would include the students and the professor.
- The examination of broad relevant topics.
- Purposely seeking the answers to unknown questions. This is not simply a lab where students perform a study that has anticipated results. According to Bangera and Brownell, a deep dive into the unknown is the heart of scientific discovery.
- Iteration throughout the course. Instead of mini projects throughout the course, engaging in iteration means that students are working on or should I say developing a project over the duration of the course.
When I initially read Bangera and Brownell’s description of a CURE my mind immediately went to all the research methods courses I have taught over my teaching career. Students are assigned to groups or teams and tasked with conceiving of a study, running it and then working collaboratively to write it up. Assignments align with the timeline for content covered in the class. Bangera and Brownell believe that this model should be in all introductory-level courses for the sciences. Most if not all of the introductory-level courses in the natural sciences have a designated lab requirement. The implementation of a CURE is not a far leap conceptually and given the number of students that take an introductory-level course in one of the sciences (often to fulfill general studies or core curriculum requirements) this is a way to ensure that a vast majority (if not all) of students are exposed to research (Auchincloss et al, 2014).
However, I would argue that participation in a CURE is not the same as mentored undergraduate research. It is not just the participation in research as an undergraduate that classifies it as a high impact practice, it is the implicit assumption and underlying fact that working with a faculty member on research means that the student is receiving (or should be receiving) comprehensive mentoring. CUREs are most likely effective in demystifying research and the research process but they are not necessarily extending the reach of mentored undergraduate research. For historically underrepresented minority students (HURMS), the mentorship is essential in propelling these students forward in pursuit of an academic or research career (Baker & Griffin, 2010; Schwartz, 2012).
At minimum CUREs are an example of high intensity collaborative work, which is a high impact factor but this approach is not the “cure for inequity,” in undergraduate research that Bangera and Brownell suggest it could be. What makes engagement in undergraduate research impactful is the mentorship embedded within the experience. I do believe CUREs can be a stepping stone for a student’s path toward mentored undergraduate research, especially if the CURE is taking place in a subject that the student connects with and could through this process see themselves seeking the answers to more questions on this or related topics. However, for a CURE to breach the surface of impact that undergraduate research yields, mentorship needs to be added to the model.
In my next post, I will share an example of mentored CURE.
- Auchincloss, L. C., Laursen, S. L., Branchaw, J. L., Eagan, K., Graham, M., Hanauer, D. I., … Dolan, E. L. (2014). Assessment of Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences: A Meeting Report. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(1), 29–40. http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.14-01-0004
- Baker, V. L., & Griffin, K. A. (2010). Beyond mentoring and advising: Toward understanding the role of faculty “developers” in student success. About Campus, 14(6), 2-8.
- Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(4), 602–606. http://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.14-06-0099
- Schwartz, J. (2012). Faculty as undergraduate research mentors for students of color: Taking into account the costs. Science Education, 96(3), 527-542.
Buffie Longmire-Avital, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of African and African-American studies, is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Longmire-Avital’s CEL Scholar project focuses on diversity and inclusion in high-impact practices.