We have developed a 3-4 session Case Study to engage students in considering the interface between ecological research, public policy and social concerns. Students are introduced to an environmental issue, e.g., the influence of West Nile Virus in Dutchess County, the role of riparian buffer strips in the watershed protection associated with New York City's water supply in the Catskill Mountains, or the mitigation of PCB contamination in the Hudson River.
We ask students to consider how ecological research influences the identification, framing, monitoring and solving of the problem, and to examine ways in which ecological research and/or ecological researchers have been influenced by the efforts of various parties to address the issue. After exploring the issue through readings, discussion, field trips, and/or interviews or panel discussions with representatives of various groups involved in the issue, students write an essay for potential publication in an appropriate newsletter, a journal and for an online Undergraduate Ecology Research Reports publication. The case study is designed to give students a real-world emersion in thinking about the complex interplay between science and society.
Each summer in the Sharing Science session, REU students have the opportunity to spend several hours in the field or laboratory doing near-peer teaching with youth, usually from nearby urban areas such as New York City or Poughkeepsie. With the assistance of ecology educators, REU students design experiences to help students (who may have had little previous experience with ecology) gain an understanding of the science of ecology.
For example, one summer REU students met with high school age students with the Children's Media Project (CMP) in Poughkeepsie for the day. After an introduction to Ecology by a scientist, REU students paired up with CMP students and performed a "pair and share". Afterwards, the students told the group a little about their partner.
Undergraduate Research Symposium
Under the guidance of one or two scientific mentors, each REU student performs an independent research project of her or his own design. From discussions with other REU Site Directors it is clear that the independence we give our students in formulating their own research questions is unusual among REU programs in biology. Students do not work in a vacuum, but rather receive a great deal of support and guidance from their mentors and other scientists, post docs, graduate students and research staff. The length of our program (12 weeks versus the more typical 10), our philosophical convictions concerning teamwork and mentor-student relationships, and the proven success we've had in the past all support this approach.
Once students delineate a research question and associated hypotheses, they select appropriate methods and develop a research plan. An informal presentation of research plans is made in week 2, with students and mentors receiving constructive feedback. A written proposal is completed by the end of the third week. This is reviewed by their mentor(s) and at least one of the Project Directors. Students implement and complete the project on their own, ending with analysis and report writing.
Students write abstracts and give a 15 minute presentation in a formal Undergraduate Research Symposium at the conclusion of the program, attended by staff, students and scientists from the surrounding community (typically 45-75 in attendance). Students write final research papers during the subsequent fall that are collated and published in an online Undergraduate Ecology Research Reports publication edited by the Project Directors. This publication not only gives our students experience in seeing their work carried to completion, but also is useful in promotion and recruitment.
Communications Workshop and Writing for the Public
Writing about research for a lay audience can be rewarding in many ways. It helps you identify the most important and interesting ideas and findings, clarifies your own understanding and satisfies your interests in connecting with people in the larger community. Students will complete two writing assignments, guided and supported by Lori Quillen, the Institute’s Director of Communications. The first will be a lay-accessible summary of the student’s proposed research that will be submitted as part of her or his research proposal. For the second, each student will select one of their peers to interview and profile in a “one-pager” that will be compiled and distributed at the Undergraduate Research Symposium in lieu of an abstract booklet.
To complement these writing tasks, Ms. Quillen and collaborators from the local media will offer a 2-3 hour Communications Workshop immersing students in some of the most exciting and useful strategies for connecting ecology to the public via the media.
To highlight the educational opportunities for translational ecology, and expose students to the intellectual underpinnings of science teaching, Dr. Berkowitz will convene an Education Roundtable of education researchers and practitioners. Panelists and the students will explore what research can tell us about effective teaching. With 1-2 students each year engaged in education research, and classroom teachers available as RET fellows or from other education research projects, the Institute presents a unique community where science and education, theory and practice all come together.
Forum on Translational Ecology
The full day Forum has been one of the most successful parts of our REU program, and has reached an expanding audience regionally, with over 100 attendees annually. In the morning, a diverse group of 10 to 12 professionals who are involved in some way in the field of ecology (see the 2012 Speakers' Bios and past Forum Presenters) give short presentations about:
- To whom do they communicate the results of ecological investigations, and how does this translation take place?
- What are the major challenges and rewards of communicating the results of scientific studies?
- Advice to students who are interested in the kinds of translation that they do.
In the afternoon, students rotate to three different panels composed of speakers of like-disciplines. The panel discussions give students an opportunity to ask the speakers questions and to probe more deeply into where they get the ecology they use in their careers.
The goals of the forum shifted this year from careers in ecology to translating ecology, and focused on how, when, and why we translate the results of ecological investigations. For example, how do results of studies get translated to the public through the media? How does the science get translated in education or in stewardship? What are some of the challenges and rewards of this translation process?
2012 Forum, July 6, 2011
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