P182: Putting an emphasis on research in the curriculum: A year-long capstone research course serves as the keystone for the neuroscience minor program at Hope College
The neuroscience minor program at Hope College involves students with different disciplinary expertise including biology, chemistry, psychology, mathematics, English, philosophy, nursing and engineering. Minors are required to take three core courses in neuroscience in addition to three “flagged” courses that contain significant neuroscience content. The core courses include the sophomore-level Introduction to Neuroscience survey course and the two-semester capstone research course. The research capstone experience is the hallmark of the neuroscience program where 8-14 students work as a collaborative team to develop a novel research question, propose experiments to address this question in a formal NSF-style research proposal, complete the experiments, analyze and interpret data, and write a journal-style manuscript summarizing the research project. This experience is a formalized research process, which unfolds step by step. Here, we report on the development of the capstone course and its role in moving the students to an appropriate level of competency in doing scientific research. Using two different instruments to assess student learning gains, we have determined that the capstone experience consistently leads to significant increases in students’ confidence in many facets of the research process including, but not limited to, their ability to pose questions from more than one disciplinary perspective, interpret data, deal with uncertainty in data, determine what is and is not valid scientific evidence, write grant proposals, and make scientific presentations. In addition students report gains in their understanding of what it means to be a research neuroscientist and an interest in pursuing a career in research.