An Undergraduate Research Opportunity: Collaboration Between Undergraduate and Graduate Students

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  • 8 JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE EDUCATIONVol. 3, 2004 2004 Institute of Food Technologists

    Classroom Techniques........

    An Undergraduate ResearchOpportunity: Collaboration Between

    Undergraduate and Graduate StudentsD.A. Dooley, R.M. Mahon, and E.A. Oshiro

    ABSTRACT: A research experience wasmade available to an undergraduateFood Science and Human Nutrition(FSHN) student through collaborationwith a Masters-level Nutrition gradu-ate student. Both students were underthe supervision of a graduate FSHNfaculty member. Positive, self-identifiedaspects for the students includedlearning how to work collaborativelyas a team member, gaining a betterunderstanding of the process of field-based research, and successfully com-pleting both projects. While caveats arenoted, we suggest that this process isan untapped opportunity to offer a re-search experience to undergraduates.It could be applicable in departments/units that maintain both an under-graduate and graduate program oracross departments where disciplinesare similar.

    IntroductionGuided empirical research is required in most Masters-level food science and

    nutrition programs and is virtually mandated in all Ph.D. programs; structured re-search experiences in the undergraduate curriculum tend to be required less pre-dictably and often are (or are not) provided at the discretion of the program. How-ever, Gonzlez (2001) has recently proposed that, in reality, the boundaries of un-dergraduate and graduate education may be blurring as the research university ma-tures, and that the mission of the university should be to introduce students to re-search at all levels, from undergraduate through postgraduate training.

    A number of authors have addressed the reasons for including research in theundergraduate curriculum. These include direct benefits to the student, such as in-creased critical thinking skills (Chaplin and others 1998); improved success ingraduate school (Nnadozie and others 2001); and better understanding of the eth-ics of scientific practice (Meers and others 2003/2004); and to the teacher/re-searcher, such as personal enjoyment on seeing the student succeed and exposureto the students novel problem-solving approaches (Halaby 2001). Indirect or long-term benefits may accrue also to the program or the institution, such as improvedevaluation or assessment outcomes (Heylings and Tariq 2001) and increased en-rollment in current undergraduate and future graduate programs (Chandra and oth-ers 1998).

    For a student to participate in research as part of his or her undergraduate experi-ence, access to successful mentoring is of crucial importance to enhance the un-dergraduates chances of remaining engaged in science (Killeen 2001). While de-scriptions of mentor may vary, several hallmarks seem to repeat: friend/counselor,older, authority in field, nurturer, respectful, and devoted (Ross Laboratories 1989).Traditionally, the undergraduates mentor has been a faculty member, either junior-or senior-level, who is currently engaged in research, thus allowing the undergrad-uate to work side by side with the faculty mentor and any graduate students alsounder the mentorship of the faculty member (Merkel 2003). The concept of facultymentoring undergraduates in research has advanced to the point where faculty areactually asking the undergraduates what they, the faculty, can do to be better men-tors and what characteristics make a good faculty mentor from the undergraduatespoint of view (Shellito and others 2001). Merkel (2003) have also suggested, eitherexplicitly or implicitly, that Ph.D.-level students and postdoctoral scholars mayserve as appropriate mentors for undergraduate research. These suggestions aresometimes couched in terms such as hierarchical mentoring (Killeen 2001) orholistic education through a coherent learning community (Gonzlez 2001).

    While the science education literature offers examples of undergraduates servingas mentors (or tutors) to other undergraduates in the science classroom (Allen andWhite 1999; Libarkin and Menke 2001/2002) and of M.S.-level students tutoringmiddle school students (Luedeman and others 2003) or functioning as teaching as-

    MS 20020450 Submitted 7/29/02, Revised 10/24/03, Accepted 12/24/03. Author Dooley is withthe Dept. of Human Nutrition, Food, and Animal Sciences, AgSci 314H, 1955 East-West Rd.,Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822. Author Mahon is with Johns Hopkins Hospital,Dept of Nutrition, 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287-355. Author Oshiro is with Pearl CityHigh School, 2100 Hookeikei St. Pearl City, HI 96782. Direct inquiries to author Dooley (E-mail:dian@hawaii.edu).

  • Vol. 3, 2004JOURNAL OF FOOD SCIENCE EDUCATION 9Available on-line at: www.ift.org

    Undergraduate-graduate collaboration . . .

    sistants for classes of undergraduate students (Killeen 2001), theuse of M.S.-level graduate students to mentor individual under-graduate researchers is not well documented. However, 2 publi-cations, 1 dealing with improving undergraduate science educa-tion (NSF 1996) and 1 with reshaping graduate education (NAS1995), both contain policy statements that seemingly recommendthat M.S.-level students could serve as mentors in undergraduateresearch projects. The NSF document calls upon university sci-ence, mathematics, engineering, and technology departments toprovide opportunities for graduate students at all levels to learnabout effective teaching strategies as part of their graduate pro-grams. The NAS document recommends that communicationskills might be sharpened through older students mentorship ofyounger students. We believe that this report may be the 1st thatdocuments such a mentoring experience, one in which an under-graduate researcher was successfully mentored by an older, moreexperienced M.S.-level student.

    Furthermore, 2 major professional food/nutrition organizations,the Institute of Food Technologists and the American Dietetics As-sociation, have identified a research experience (Newsome 1991;Simko and Gilbride 1992) or skills related to research (Eck andothers 1998; Hartel 2001) as crucial components of the baccalau-reate training of food science and/or nutrition students. Regardlessof these and other explicit mandates (NRC 1990; Thomas and Earl1994; Boyer Commission 1998), literature reports of successfulresearch experiences in food science or nutrition undergraduateprograms appear wanting (Dooley and others 1998; Smith 2001).A recent, extensive web-based literature search was also conduct-ed. The professional literature still appears limited with respect tosuccessful research experiences specific to food science and nu-trition undergraduate programs.

    Another issue perhaps needs explicit discussion: Should thisreport, itself, be considered to be research? Clearly, it is a casestudy, and case studies have long been accepted as research inother disciplines such as medicine (including clinical nutrition)and education. For education research, Merriam (1998) has de-fined a case study as qualitative research ... an intensive, holisticdescription and analysis of a single instance, phenomenon, or so-cial unit. In the 2nd edition of her book, she further provides arich description of the research process and contrasts qualitativeand quantitative research endeavors in education. For example,qualitative research is otherwise known as fieldwork/naturalistic/constructivist; its design is flexible/evolving/emergent; the sam-ple is small/nonrandom/purposeful, and data collection is ac-complished by interviews/observations/documents. In clinicalnutrition research, the case study or case history of 1 individual,likewise, is well defined. Study protocol and related records mustcontain specific elements; the research requires Institutional Re-view Board approval; and each case history must contain speci-fied information, such as how the single subject has met selectioncriteria and information from all tests/procedures performed (Al-brecht 1998). Unfortunately, no clear paradigm exists when sci-ence and education come together in either nutrition or food sci-ence education.

    Thus, we would like to suggest that this case-study reportshould be considered qualitative research and that, as such, itmay represent 1 of the 1st research reports documenting the pro-cess by which an applied science experience was made availableto undergraduate food science and human nutrition (FSHN) stu-dent Erica A. Oshiro (EAO) by working collaboratively with, andunder the direct mentorship of, Masters (MS) student Rachel M.Mahon (RMM). Both students were under the supervision ofFSHN graduate faculty member Dian A. Dooley (DAD).

    Project overviewThe focus of the research for both undergraduate and graduate

    students was primarily nutrition; however, we feel that this ar-rangement of having an undergraduate mentored by a graduatestudent, both of whom were mentored by a graduate facultymember, provides a unique example of addressing the responsi-bility of the university to expand opportunities for undergraduatestudents to experience research, especially field-based, appliedresearch. In addition, the process should be adaptable to otherprograms that maintain undergraduate and MS-level graduateprograms in the same, or related, fields.

    The Masters student fulfilled the research requirement of herMS program; the undergraduate met a Multicultural Scholars Pro-gram (MSP) research requirement (CFDA 2002). The MSP, fundedby a USDA grant, provides a full, 4-y-tuition scholarship to selectAsian and Pacific Islander students at the Univ. of Hawaii atManoa (UHM) through the College of Tropical Agriculture andHuman Resources (CTAHR). Requirements of the UHM-MSP Pro-gram include spending a summer of study outside of the UnitedStates, being mentored in an undergraduate research experience,and serving as a CTAHR student ambassador where needed. Bothstudents