Undergraduates Need A ‘Positive Lab Experience’

Many undergraduate students don’t take advantage of the research opportunities open to them when they’re studying for a life sciences degree. In fact, a recent study conducted in the US found that more than half of students drop out of their research experience within the first year of their studies.

The main factor that’s causing students to walk away from the research environment is not having a positive experience in the lab.

Phys.org reported on the findings of the study, which was conducted among life sciences students studying at 25 public institutions around the US. More than 50 per cent of the students who participated had dropped out of their research experience, and 50 per cent had considered leaving.

Enjoying the research tasks they were performing and being part of a positive environment were the main things cited as keeping undergraduate students involved in research. Other factors influencing their decision to leave or stay included the flexibility of their schedule and feeling included.

School life sciences associate professor at Arizona State University Dr Sara Brownell told the publication that universities shouldn’t just assume that the research experience they’re providing is positive for students.

“We can empower students with more knowledge about undergraduate research to help them choose a suitable lab, but we also need to find ways to make our research labs more positive environments for all students,” she told the news provider.

Given all the benefits that participating in research can bring to students, it’s certainly something that universities may want to focus on.

The publication noted that getting involved in research projects at university helps students develop their critical thinking skills, boosts their understanding of how to carry out a research project and increases the chances that they’ll complete their STEM degree.

What’s more, students who get involved in research for several years see even greater benefits in terms of their skill development and confidence in their skills. They’re also more likely to pursue a career in STEM.

Lead author of the study Katelyn Cooper said that the findings should encourage universities to take a different approach to the hiring process for faculty members who will be tasked with running research labs.

“We often are looking for the smartest people with the best research ideas. However, this study highlights that if we want to maximise the success of undergraduates in research, we need to be selecting for supportive faculty who can create positive working environments,” she asserted.

This might also be something that organisations want to consider when they’re recruiting for roles away from academia.

Earlier this year, 22 new partnerships were announced with contract research organisations (CROs) in the UK in a bid to boost the country’s life sciences research and development (R&D) sector. The aim of these partnerships is to get private CROs working with expert laboratories to encourage the discovery of new drugs and treatments for a range of conditions.

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