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Context & Problem

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uke

Duke University's stategic plan calls for increased participation rates in Undergraduate Research Experiences (URE), and subsequent increases in the number of students who write senior theses.  The problem is, how do departments increase the capacity for URE without any increase in funding or faculty?  Within the biology department at Duke, there was already the sense that the quality of senior theses was, on average, below the departmental expectations, so we wondered how to improve the quality of theses. 

Facts and Figures:
*  Duke biology graduates ~150 majors/year
*  Historically, ~30-35 biology majors wrote senior theses/year
*  In the last 3 years, we have had ~65 bio majors write senior theses/year
*  Biology is one of the largest majors at Duke (others include economics and chemistry)

Previous research questions:
*  What can we do to improve the quality of undergraduate theses
*   How can we increase participation rates in URE without decreasing quality?
 
To address these questions, I created BioTAP, the Biology Thesis Assessment Protocol.  I have a "what is" paper that will be published in BioScience's education column in October 2009 describing the tool, how it was developed, how I got faculty buy-in, and how I tested the reliability of the tool.
 
My next reserach questions include:
  • Does BioTAP improve student writing? (the "what works" paper)
  • Does BioTAP also develop critical thinking skills, change attitudes, perceptions? (the "what's possible" paper)
  • Can BioTAP be adapted across disciplines (esp. Chemistry & Economics, maybe history) and beyond our institutional context?