Authentic research experiences during undergraduate education promote retention in science and more sophisticated levels of understanding and interpreting scientific data. Additionally, students gain a greater sense of membership in a scientific community. However, in practice, support for these opportunities for undergraduates is limited because of the high cost of research and the time demands on research staff. Despite strong support for this model of teaching, its implementation is largely limited to mentored research experiences that require a research working one-on-one with a student and therefore, restricts the number of students who can participate. To address this challenge, we created an undergraduate laboratory-intensive course, The Python Project, which provides an authentic research opportunity to 16 students each semester under the supervision of a single instructor in a classroom setting.
Course-based Research Experiences (CUREs) provide the opportunity and scalability required to extend research experiences to more undergraduates. The goal of the course is to guide students through novel experimentation in conjunction with an ongoing research project in the sponsor laboratory in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department at University of Colorado at Boulder that aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of organ hypertrophy and regression of organs in the Burmese python. The course mirrors a graduate program with experimental design, optimization, data analysis, and interpretation with students ultimately writing a scientific article, giving an oral presentation, and defending their work in a public poster session. By design, the experimental aims of the class evolve over time and include the inherent risk of failure that any research project has. Thus, the course emulates opportunities normally provided only to members of a laboratory research group and ensures that students experience the excitement and challenges of scientific discovery. In addition to the positive academic outcomes reported for CUREs, our own research on the outcomes of the Python Project has revealed personal gains in terms of ability to overcome obstacles, a high admission rate to graduate programs and medical school, and a feeling of membership in the scientific community.