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Research opportunities plentiful for underclassmen

At the University of Missouri, freshmen and sophomores do not have to wait until they are upperclassmen to conduct research, collaborate with a faculty mentor or work on projects in their academic disciplines. Programs such as Discovery Fellows, the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) Exposure to Research for Science Students (EXPRESS) and the Freshman Research in Plant Sciences (FRIPS) encourage first- and second-year students to get involved early.

Discovery Fellows Program

The purpose of the Discovery Fellows Program is to help incoming freshmen and current first-year students learn about the process of conducting research. The program began in 2002 and was one of MU’s first formal undergraduate research programs. It provides students with structured opportunities to work with MU faculty on projects in their academic disciplines.

“Providing undergraduates with high-impact opportunities to participate in one of the highest value activities we have is only natural,” J.D. Bowers, director of MU’s Honors College, says. “And we do it better than most. MU has been ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the U.S. in terms of the research and artistry opportunities we provide. That’s something upon which we should continue to place great value.”

Through participation, Fellows gain insight into the professional world, enhance their knowledge base and critical thinking skills and prepare themselves for graduate school. They also attend social events and professional development workshops, and have the opportunity to present their research.

Current first-year students and entering freshmen with an ACT composite score of at least 33 are eligible to apply. Students must also complete the MU Honors College application or already be admitted into the Honors College. Prior research experience is not required.

“We want Fellows who understand the reasons and value for undertaking research and artistry from the outset of their academic career,” Bowers says. “We seek those who will be excited by exploration and in learning the processes from the ground up.”

Selected students work eight hours per week and are awarded a $2,000 scholarship for the academic year. In the past, students have been selected from a variety of schools and colleges such as Journalism, Health Professions, Business, Engineering, Arts and Science, Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and Human Environmental Studies.

IMSD EXPRESS Program

The IMSD EXPRESS Program is designed for MU freshmen and sophomores who are from ethnic and racial groups that are commonly underrepresented in scientific fields. The program receives funding from a grant from the National Institutes of Health to encourage minority students to pursue a career in biomedical research.

“We don’t have a biomedical research workforce that even closely mirrors our society, so it’s important to promote excellence and diversity in the sciences,” Brian Booton, IMSD EXPRESS Program coordinator, says.

Participants attend weekly professional development workshops and are assigned peer mentors. The program also provides funding for students to gain undergraduate research experience with a faculty mentor in the scientific department of their choosing.

Each fall, students attend the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. In 2015, students traveled to Seattle, Washington, to present their research. For the last four years, at least one MU student has received an Outstanding Poster Presentation Award. According to Booton, faculty judges for the conference select only five to 10 percent of students for this honor in each scientific category.

“The program benefits students by building a strong community of underrepresented scientists at MU and helping them clarify their career goals,” Booton says.

All first- and second-year MU students and transfer students who intend to major in a life science discipline and are from ethnic or racial groups that are underrepresented in the sciences are eligible to apply. Students selected typically work eight to 12 hours per week, and they earn up to $7.80 per hour.

FRIPS Program

The FRIPS Program exposes MU freshmen to plant research and encourages them to consider a research career in the plant sciences. Students learn research techniques and practically apply what they learn in class. The program began at MU in 2010 and receives funding from a grant from the National Science Foundation.

“Students seeking undergraduate research involvement with an interest in early faculty mentorship and an excitement for discovery and innovation can greatly benefit from the program personally, professionally and academically,” Michael Cohen, assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, says. “Students engaged in the program have gone on to great accomplishments at Mizzou, but it starts with a willingness to learn, desire to be successful and a strong interest in the subject material.”

Cohen says six to 10 positions will be available for the 2016-17 year. Applicants must be first-year undergraduate students majoring in biochemistry, biology, computer sciences or plant sciences with an interest in plant biology research. Eligible students must also have a math or science ACT score of at least 28 or a high school GPA of at least 3.3. Selected students work 10 hours per week and earn $7.65 per hour.

Cohen looks for students with a strong work ethic, an inquisitive nature and enthusiasm for research.

“We seek students with the maturity to understand that research does not necessarily provide us with pre-packaged answers that fit neatly into a prescribed plan,” Cohen says. “We look for students who seek to find solutions to complex problems and are continually motivated by the search for answers.”