In our FRI program, a Research Educator (RE) refers to a scientist, whose job it is to teach large numbers of college students how to conduct real research and, in doing so, help students develop the professional skills desired by employers in this century. Within that process and working with a faculty advisory team, the RE maintains and/or expands his/her research program. All of our REs have advanced degrees in disciplines in science or engineering. Almost all have PhDs. To assist the REs in this particular role, the FRI program provides additional training and resources for them. The campus title for this position is “research assistant professor” and, in the FRI program, that is a non-tenured, two-year position, although some REs continue for a third year. Most of our REs are preparing for tenure-track lines at primarily undergraduate institutions that want to hire faculty who want to maintain a research program featuring undergraduates.
Frequently asked questions
How does the appointment of Research Educator work at your university? Your advertisement lists this as a two-year appointment. Is this because funding is expected to end within that time frame? How is the position funded?
The Freshman Research Immersion (FRI) is a campus-wide STEM program conducted from and sustained by the Provost's Office. In addition to funding from the Provost's Office, the program has external grants, for example from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), National Science Foundation (NSF), NY State Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), and SUNY System.
How and when are Research Educators trained on techniques, for example, experimental techniques for which Research Educators may be unfamiliar, but also educational assessments of the students used in the program?
Research educators meet weekly with the FRI director, FRI assistant director, and other Research Educators for a preparatory session for the courses. These sessions cover training in teaching pedagogy, program assessment, course design, etc. Additional training on equipment and procedures occurs, as needed. For example, some new research educators start a month early, or complete formal training programs offered here or regionally during semester breaks.
What sort of weekly/monthly schedule does the program follow?
The FRI program is a sequence of three linked course-based undergraduate research experiences (aka CUREs). In the fall semester of freshman year, all FRI students enroll in a Research Methods Seminar that provides basic skills all researchers should possess. Students learn to use the scientific method to develop, research, and present a research question that aligns with the topics of their research stream. The Research Educators co-teach that seminar.
Individually, the Research Educators run their own research stream courses, with the advice of their faculty team sponsors and the FRI staff. The two-semester laboratory sequence (Research Stream, parts 1 and 2) begins in the freshman spring semester. During the spring, students learn the core concepts and techniques of their stream’s discipline while investigating an authentic research question. Students build on discipline foundations to develop a collaborative research proposal to investigate in the sophomore fall semester. Both of the research stream courses are structured with two hours of lecture/lab meeting and six hours of laboratory per week.
How many undergraduates are in the lab at a time? Does the Research Educator have any assistants?
Both Research Stream courses (parts 1 and 2) have 30 students. In the spring, there are two lab sections of about 15 students each, and each section meets twice a week for three hours. In the fall, students schedule their weekly six lab hours based on their course schedules and the lab's open hours (about 20 hours per week), again for the purpose of limiting the number of students to about 15 at any one time. Typically a research stream course has a graduate teaching assistant and 5-6 undergraduate peer mentors who have completed the FRI program.
How are the labs equipped? What resources are available for the Research Educator and undergraduates to work with?
The FRI laboratories are “dedicated” to FRI, meaning the space is only shared with other FRI research streams. The labs are renovated for “teaching research” and set up with state-of-the-art equipment and research-grade supplies. The equipment reflects the research theme of the stream, as designed by the faculty team sponsoring the stream.
How many student projects does the Research Educator oversee?
In all of these courses, students are required to work in teams, typically with 4-5 students per team, so about six related sub-projects per course. There are several reasons for the teamwork. The program heavily emphasizes professionalization, that is, students developing their communication, teamwork, project management and leadership skills, in addition to technical skills. Also, the research projects are too large and complex for one or a couple students to handle in the time frame of courses, even three linked courses. For example, often students have to check on experiments outside of scheduled class time; thus, teams learn to delegate research tasks and time in equitable ways. Furthermore, because this is real research, students are expected to do most of their own lab prep and all of their own cleanup, and teamwork provides the best management of that.
Are the questions investigated by the students rolled over into the next group of freshman to obtain a publishable result? What is their role and the role of the research educator with regards to authorship?
A goal of the FRI program is that the research is publishable in peer-reviewed journals. How that is accomplished varies with the research stream and, within streams, with the research project(s). In some cases, student teams produce something publishable in the first research stream course, or in the combination of the research stream part 1 and 2 courses. Because that is under the guidance of the Research Educator (RE), the RE is also an author. Many or all of the students on the team may be authors, depending on the journal's guidelines about what qualifies as authorship and order (i.e., first author, co-authors, last author). Some students instead may qualify as providing assistance as mentioned in the acknowledgments. In other instances, student teams build on what prior student teams have done, so the results are combined. In some cases, some of the faculty team sponsoring the research stream are also co-authors. One of the responsibilities of the RE is to explain to students how authorship works in that discipline and for particular journals.
Are there opportunities and support to attend scientific professional conferences?
Yes. We encourage the Research Educators to present their research, research from the research stream, and science education research from the FRI program at regional and national meetings.