In an initiative to enhance hands-on research opportunities for first years and sophomores, the Yale faculty has increased its efforts to design courses specifically dedicated to promoting research skills and teaching essential laboratory techniques.

This program, called Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences, was started a year ago by ecology and evolutionary biology professor Paul Turner. This year marks the second cohort of students who will take CUREs and the first year that faculty will receive feedback to revise their courses. A $1.2 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded in 2014 funds this effort among several others to promote STEM education for Yale undergraduates.

“What we want to achieve with these types of courses at Yale is an opportunity for undergraduates to be involved in a course that gives them direct experience in hands-on research with no prerequisites,” Turner said.

This fall, two courses were designated as CUREs: “Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research” and “Hormones and Behavior,” according to Melanie Bauer, program manager for the Center for Teaching and Learning.

“Discovery and Design in Biomedical Research” enables students to learn about designing tissue-engineered grafts, while “Hormones and Behavior” is a biological, anthropological course that investigates the interaction between hormones and behavior and provides instruction in common laboratory techniques, according to Bauer.

In the spring, “Virus Discovery and Evolution” will be offered as a CUREs course. In the class, students will discover and characterize viruses from the New Haven area, said Alita Burmeister, postdoctoral associate in the Turner Lab.

“What the students will do every day in lab is everything that researchers do as part of science,” Burmeister said. “The focus will be on thinking about hypotheses, then designing and conducting experiments and finally, analyzing and presenting their data.”

Not all students are able to enter the research field early in their undergraduate careers, so the CUREs initiative aims to facilitate opportunities for students to conduct research and transition into higher-level, faculty-led research at Yale, according to Turner.

He added that many national studies have reported that course-based research experiences help enable students who express interest in STEM to stay in these fields — and are especially influential for underrepresented minority undergraduates.

Burmeister said these experiences are also important for non-STEM majors, allowing them to learn about scientific discovery and evidence analysis.

One major component of the initiative is to connect faculty from different departments at Yale interested in providing research opportunities to students. This allows instructors to share experiences and advice with each other and work with the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning to design and evaluate courses.

“Some of our faculty are already teaching courses where students get some experience with hands-on research, and they have not been called CUREs historically,” Turner said. “We want to create more of a network between instructors and faculty here at Yale who care about these kinds of experiences for undergraduates.”

“Virus Discovery and Evolution” was also taught in the 2016–17 academic year as the founding course of the CUREs initiative. Rose Bender ’19 said she had a great experience in the course and was able to join Turner’s lab afterward, adding that many of the laboratory skills she learned in the class were useful in a faculty-led research lab.

“The class was a great mixture of general concepts and laboratory techniques,” Bender said. “I had hardly heard of bacteriophages before I took the class, but taking it showed me how cool they are and made me want to work with them beyond just the course.”

The program is currently accepting proposals from Yale faculty of potential CUREs courses for the next academic year and will close its application period on Friday. In January, program leaders will make final decisions on what courses the HHMI Campus Grant will support for the 2018–19 academic year, Bauer said.

In addition to funding CUREs, Yale’s HHMI Campus Grant, which runs through August 2019, helps finance First-Year Scholars at Yale, the Foundations Biology sequence, summer research programing and introductory math support.

Amy Xiong |