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Context & Problem

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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?
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What about trying this for a Masters' thesis? We could really use a good model and as we have more and more students working at the health science center, we could use help to facilitate the PI - grad student interactions, because these PIs are used to PhD students.
Posted 16:30, 17 Jul 2009
one additional thing you're going to need is attitude surveys or interviews on the tool and/or on the process
Posted 16:30, 17 Jul 2009
Nice name for the protocol! And I am certain that members of my department would be happy to use your rubric to see if it can be adapted to a different institutional context.
Posted 16:31, 17 Jul 2009
very nice study.
Posted 16:31, 17 Jul 2009
Student attitude surveys will be important.
I will chat with my colleagues and see if this is something they are intersted in for our M.S. Students in Biology. We may need to set up a meeting, but hey, we are just down the road.
Posted 16:32, 17 Jul 2009
I'm interested in trying your tool at our institution- I'll have to check with the main campus to find out more about who might want to use it.
Posted 16:32, 17 Jul 2009
I'm very enthusiastic about TAP and would welcome the opportunity to learn about it and help on your project. I'll mention it to my chair and dean, with hopes of getting this system wide (Calfornia State University).
Posted 16:32, 17 Jul 2009
I have no control or influence over anything, and we don't do theses at the community college, but I would certainly consider contacting the NMSU Honors College and the NMSU Teaching Academy to see if they would sponsor your visit to NMSU (
Posted 16:33, 17 Jul 2009
I think my institution would be interested in this (UW-madison), but am not directly involved in thesis stuff.
Posted 16:44, 17 Jul 2009
I love the idea and I think my colleagues back home would like to learn more about this. Will we be able to get your October paper when it is out? Would love to read and learn more about it.
Posted 17:45, 17 Jul 2009
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