Education in Biological Sciences: National Science Foundation
University of California, Davis
September 30, 1996
Barbara D. Webster
NSF Biology Advisory Committee
The most valuable and farsighted concept to emerge
from the original Bush vision was that by supporting research in
the universities, the government would also be investing in the
education of the next generation-a beautiful and efficient concept.
In short, every dollar spent would be doing double duty. This integration
of teaching and research is at the heart of America's unique system
Cornell University, 1995
Biology is an experimental science and strong links
between research and education are natural and essential. One goal
of this workshop is to identify and evaluate the mechanisms by
which we take advantage of the linkages between research and education
in the design and delivery of our curriculum, both at the undergraduate
and graduate level. One outcome of the workshop will be to develop
a framework for creating a "research-centered" educational
process that will enable students and teachers at all levels to
use the principles and procedures associated with research and
discovery to learn the facts, concepts, and ideas essential for
modern biologists now and in the future. A specific challenge will
be to identify ways in which the research approach can be integrated
into an undergraduate curriculum designed for large numbers of
students with diverse backgrounds and diverging career expectations.
Issues to be addressed include: individual research experiences
for undergraduates; the role of laboratory and field courses; bringing
the research/discovery approach into the classroom; the role of
new technologies, especially computer technology; and the changing
expectations for graduate education.
Mark G. McNamee, Dean
Biological Sciences, UC Davis, 1996
On 30 September 1995 approximately 60 members of the UC Davis campus
community gathered at the Buehler Alumni Center for a day-long
workshop on Research-Centered Education in Biological Sciences.
Included in the group were administrators, faculty, staff, graduate
and undergraduate students from the Schools/Colleges of Letters
and Science, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Engineering,
Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Division of Biological
Sciences and of Graduate Studies. The program for the day had
three major components particularly germane to research and education:
research in the undergraduate curriculum; the changing face of
graduate education; and the impact of new technologies on teaching
and research. Each section of the program was introduced by a
panel of speakers describing new approaches, case studies or
overviews of the topic. These were followed by breakout group
sessions or general audience discussions. The workshop was moderated
by the Dean of Biological Sciences and the individual sections
and discussions were led by participating faculty. The outcomes
were summarized by a look to the future development of a research-centered
framework for biology education in the 21st century. (see Appendix
I. Research in the Undergraduate Curriculum
In his opening remarks, the Dean asked workshop participants to
consider how the curriculum might look if we designed it with
research in mind; and, given the fact that at UC Davis there
are approximately 3,600 undergraduate majors in biology, how
we might go about developing an approach to making research relevant
to education. This led directly to the first panel presentations
on examples of new approaches to individual research participation
of undergraduates and the teaching of large numbers of students
to "think like scientists". Salient points of some
innovative research-centered education programs developed by
biological sciences faculty are summarized in Appendix 2-A,B,C,
Some important points raised by panelists included:
- the need for salaries for undergraduate participants in laboratory
- the importance of collaboration among students and among laboratories
with common interests.
- the value of small group learning assistance, of discussion
groups, and of written and oral reports.
- the value of personal connections between faculty and undergraduate
- the importance and scope of advising of undergraduates in biology
in preparing them for the "real world".
- the multiple benefits of involving graduate students with undergraduates
In the breakout groups discussions which followed, two groups
focussed on what we expect an undergraduate to learn from a research
experience and what the goal is in the efforts to involve undergraduates
in research. Major conclusions were as follows:
- the ability to solve problems is of prime importance in the
- the laboratory research experience should lead to an understanding
of the applications of the research.
- scientific literacy can be acquired without hands-on research
(e.g., through reading, critical analyses of newspaper articles
and research reports and certain courses such as ethics).
- getting students to think analytically could be achieved by
group discussions of critical problems.
- not all students are interested in laboratory research, and
the laboratory experience does not always motivate students to
continue in the sciences.
- everyone should be clear on the goal when/if the effort is
made to involve all biology undergraduates in research.
Two other breakout groups discussed what is to be expected from
undergraduates in research-based courses and what the optimal size
and form of such courses might be. Among the comments were the
- the expectation is that students will learn "how to think" and
that they will develop skills of inquiry.
- course forms could include lectures, discussion sessions, field
courses, laboratories and/or a balance among them.
- courses should not be designed as campaigns to attract majors;
not all undergraduates will have further interest in science
in general or biology in particular.
- students should acquire understanding of the scientific method
and an appreciation of scientific approaches and techniques.
II. The Changing Face of Graduate Education
In an overview of graduate studies at UC Davis, the Dean reminded
the participants that there are nearly 3,000 graduate students
and approximately 2,200 professional school students on campus.
There are 80 graduate programs offering advanced degrees. Graduate
study is organized as departmental programs or as graduate groups.
Graduate groups, which are self-governing organizations of faculty,
include 18 in biology. The Dean then challenged workshop participants
to reflect on structural differences among graduate programs
and graduate groups and to evaluate successes and challenges
of graduate studies, which tend to have an intense focus on research
(perhaps at the expense of the educational component). See Appendix
As examples of innovative approaches to combining research and
education in graduate studies, training grant programs, including
that of the UC Davis NSF-funded Science and Technology Center,
were described by principal investigators of the programs. See
Appendix 4A-E. The general discussion which followed compared and
contrasted departmental graduate programs, graduate groups and
graduate training grant programs. Major points made by the speakers
and the audience were as follows:
- programs in which groups of students present reports of their
research enhance students' speaking ability and help develop their
- the interactions between visiting scientists and students are
important in developing students' perspectives of various career
opportunities in biology.
- training grant programs generate a high degree of enthusiasm
for sharing ideas and common interests among colleagues.
- the versatile menu of components in a training grant program
(e.g., seminars, workshops, retreats, journal clubs, focussed
advising, internships) enhances the concept of the integration
of research and education.
- postdoctoral students play critical roles in the education
of graduate students.
- departmental graduate programs cannot offer the range of opportunities
of training grant programs but often do include journal clubs,
student research presentations, and visiting scientist interactions
- training grant programs promote appreciation of teamwork among
students and faculty.
- a training grant model could work for all graduate students
but not through the present graduate group structure and organization.
III. Is New Technology Really Going to Change Teaching and Research
The final segment of the workshop program was a wide ranging discussion
of new technologies and the extent to which teaching and research
in biology might change with incorporation of new technology. The
audience listed technologies which they felt had the potential
to improve or supplement the way in which we now teach and do research,
including, e.g., the web, Internet, computer simulations, 3-D animation,
genomics, data acquisition, interactive modules, the "virtual
university", statistical packages. All of the above were deemed
to have potential to improve or supplement the way in which we
teach biology; the choice of technologies, it was noted, is up
to the individual and selection may be based both on ease in use
or because the subject cannot be handled without the technology.
A limiting factor in employment of some technology was felt to
be accessibility by students. Students come to the university expecting
to have access to various technology. This needs to be widely,
easily and cheaply available.
Two final and particularly interesting
perceptions were noted by workshop participants: first, that
dependence on technologies may lead to more solitary, rather than
more interactive, pursuits among faculty and students; and second,
that extensive use of technologies may minimize dependence on people
IV. Workshop Summary
The final workshop summary viewed the discussions of the day as
constituting a framework for future directions in the biological
sciences at UC Davis at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
By bringing together a diverse and campus wide group of people
interested in research and education, it established a foundation
from which a vision of the future in biology can develop. One
of the most impressive outcomes of the workshop was a recognition
of the enthusiasm and versatility of the faculty in organizing
and implementing innovative programs in research and education
in biology. It is evident that the biology faculty looks to the
future with a willingness to put forth extraordinary efforts
to develop a research-centered education in biology. It would
be shortsighted indeed to fail to capitalize on such willingness.
Hardcopy Appendices for this report may be obtained via email from
Mrs. Peggy Weber; by phone (703) 292-8400 or by writing:
Biological Sciences, Rm. 605 North
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230
Back to BIOAC Workshop Reports main page