EVOLUTION OF THE GEOLOGY UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH EXPERIENCE AT FORT LEWIS COLLEGE, 1964 TO PRESENT
Our program has recently expanded its options for senior projects to reduce the demands on faculty and students. FLC seniors now have four options for their projects (original research, often related to faculty projects; REUs; internships; and literature reviews). All options include a final paper and an oral GSA-style presentation. In addition, REUs and internships require a portfolio summarizing the student work; literature reviews require an interview with a primary author and a focus on historical development of the ideas. All students begin their work in a junior research course, in which they explore possible topics, contact other organizations about collaborating, write proposals (including external) for funding, and begin writing a thesis background; work continues through their entire senior year.
Each option has pros and cons. Internal (FLC faculty) and external (REU) research projects prepare students for graduate school, may provide experience with techniques not available at FLC (e.g. stable isotopes, cosmogenic nuclides, U-Pb zircon), and may pay students for summer work. However, advising these projects is time-consuming, creating extra demands on faculty with heavy teaching loads, and funding 20+ students per year is challenging. Literature reviews are inexpensive and allow students to explore topics beyond the expertise of FLC faculty, but do not provide experience doing science and look weaker on a resume. Internships provide valuable work experience, but any data that the students collect may be proprietary. Both internships and REUs suffer from late decisions (making preparation difficult) and uneven communication between the summer mentor, the student, and the FLC faculty advisor. Despite their weaknesses, the four options are a necessary response to increases in numbers of majors.