SEA-PHAGES offers hands-on research experience for students


An ongoing attempt to change the way students learn about science seems to be having positive effects for undergraduates, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In 2008, the Science Education Alliance (SEA) launched a two-semester program designed to allow university students to participate in real biological research. As early as their freshman year, students were offered the opportunity to contribute to scientific literature and databases using the results of their research. The program was titled SEA Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and
Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

After launching the program in 12 schools, SEA-PHAGES spread to more than 70 colleges and universities, according to the HHMI website. A study published in mBio on Feb. 4 reported the program has boosted grades and retention within 20 universities.

While the course typically attracts first or second-year biology students, it has been adapted by one team to cater strongly to non-majors. The three researchers who implemented this version of the course found that it had similar effects on freshmen and sophomores not going into the sciences, according to Caruso and colleagues, published in the online journal PubMed Central.

The goal of the SEA-PHAGES project is to provide hands-on research experience to students interested in the sciences. Instead of focussing heavily on content, SEA-PHAGES focuses on teaching students research methods, according to The Chronicle. The idea is to educate students about how to do science rather than to reinforce material they are learning in lecture. This opens the program up to students who do not have a strong background in biology.

The analysis suggests that giving students a platform for making their own discoveries provides unique benefits for increasing their passion for science.

Organizations that focus on science education debate about how important lab work is to increasing scientific understanding. While working in a laboratory may not be necessary for literacy in the sciences, SEA-PHAGES suggest that it can be notably helpful when implemented in particular ways.

Reporting by Hailey Kaufman

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