The value of research experience

A robust body of evidence supports the value of research experiences for improving retention and graduation of undergraduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. Unfortunately, most of the students who transfer into CBS do not participate in the rich research enterprise of the University. In addition, most of the non-science majors who take our introductory biology courses do not do research of any kind. As a result, these students do not receive the benefits that come from asking questions, searching for answers, interpreting sometimes puzzling results, and discussing their work. 

Benefits to students

The HHMI grant is helping us achieve our ambitious goal: to ensure that each student who graces our classrooms has an encounter with authentic research. Incoming freshmen get the chance to participate in authentic research through the Foundations course sequence of BIOL 2002, 2003 and 2004. We would like to give that opportunity to transfer students and non-science majors. Over the four-year funding period of this grant, about 800 transfer students and 12,000 non-science majors will participate in authentic research. 

Authentic research will help students understand the process of science better. We also expect that students' attitudes about science and confidence in science will improve. Students will be introduced to current research being done at the University, like Snapshot Serengeti, as well as fast growing, cutting-edge fields, such as metagenomics. They will gain experience working with and analyzing data, using models, and learning common lab procedures.

Benefits to faculty

Many University faculty members have had the opportunity to work with the HHMI postdocs as teaching or research mentors. Selected by the HHMI postdocs, faculty members are chosen based on their research and teaching interests. 

Faculty fellows and HHMI postdocs work together at the National Academies Midwest Northstar Institute for Science Education. The Midwest Northstar Institute will provide the structure and support for participants to design educational materials, revise the materials based on assessments, and to write manuscripts describing the results of their educational research. 

Intensive collaborations among faculty and postdocs, catalyzed by the Midwest Northstar Institute, will lay the foundation for a sustained culture of teaching innovation and scholarship throughout our college.

Benefits to postdocs

Postdoctoral teaching fellows have gained valuable experience that will help them in their career. As an HHMI postodcs, they have been able to develop teaching skills while learning and applying principles of active learning. Those doing research, have gotten the opportunity to work with University faculty to pursue research interests and work on publishable material. The combination of education and research gives HHMI postdocs a unique experience where they develop a versatile skillset.


Robin Wright, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, is program director. Her role is to coordinate programs, schedule meetings with advisory board and steering committee and faculty leads, and organize the Northstar Institute.

Robert Brooker, Ph.D., Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, serves as lead faculty member for the HHMI Teaching Fellow Program.

Michael Sadowsky, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the BioTechnology Institutte, is faculty director of the Minnesota Mississippi Metagenome Project.

Susan Wick, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Biology, is lead faculty member for incorporation of M3P research experiences into non-majors biology laboratories.

Advisory board