2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-6:00 PM

Designing Successful Undergraduate Research Experiences In Systematic Paleontology

ANDERSON, Deborah K., Biology Discipline, Division of Natural Sciences, St. Norbert College, 100 Grant Street, De Pere, WI 54115, deborah.anderson@snc.edu

Designing a successful undergraduate research experience in systematic paleontology is challenging because, (1) learning to correctly identify a specimen takes several months to years, (2) students must learn a lot of new terminology, (3) collections-based projects require one-on-one time with the faculty member, and (4) the research "questions" are open-ended by nature. I use a student-faculty collaborative research model that minimizes the costs and maximizes the benefits associated with each of these challenges. Early recruitment of students, starting them on projects during the fall of their sophomore/junior year, gives me the time needed to teach them taxonomy. Learning terminology is combined with developing the skill of using an optical micrometer to take measurements, thus combining new knowledge with practical application. Reading primary literature, writing, and data analysis are assigned for the student to complete independently, saving the one-on-one time with me for studying specimens and discussing ideas. The open-ended nature of systematic paleontology questions engages students in critical thinking and constructivist learning and demonstrates that scientific research is not a linear process.

Over time, I have mentored 15 students using this model. Students self-report an in-depth understanding of the process of science, increased enthusiasm for the discipline and scientific research, increased confidence in oral and written communication skills, and an ability to ask insightful questions. Faculty benefits include the intellectual stimulation and new discoveries made as a result of creative thinking; the reward of seeing a student grow personally and intellectually; the opportunity to mentor enthusiastic, bright students; and recognition from peers on campus and externally. This model highlights a successful method for involving students in collaborative research in paleontology that benefits students and faculty both scientifically and professionally.