Advice for Research Program Organizers | Student Science

Support Strong Science

Be a champion now for the

next generation of science leaders.

Advice for Research Program Organizers

In two workshops during the summer, approximately twenty science research teachers were asked to provide advice regarding getting students engaged in scientific research.

The following notes are to be viewed as words of advice and are not meant to be a definitive guide on creating a research class. Every teacher and school district has a different set of strengths and obstacles that need to be addressed on an individual basis. Also, we must further stress that students need not complete research at research institutions, nor have an adult scientist mentor to be eligible for Regeneron STS.  A great number of successful independent research projects can be done outside of a lab, and the judges applaud students who show great initiative regardless of where the research was conducted.

Where can I find funding or resources for my research program?

  • Departmental, school, or school district budgets
  • PTSA’s mini-grants
  • Invested parties: Parents, school/ program alumni, and mentors may all be interested backers in student research
  • Local research institutions could donate used instrumentation or time
  • Corporate grants (don’t forget local businesses!)
  • Offices of Admissions, who view it as a recruitment tool
  • NSF and other research grants that have outreach money tied to them
  • AAAS has grants for individual students - they must submit proposals
  • Update the program frequently to keep it fresh and attract continued funding

How can I attract more students?

  • Programs at the elementary school and middle school levels help feed students into the program
  • Have current students talk to younger students about their positive experiences, potentially using video chat for alumni already in college
  • Invite prospective students and their parents to attend the symposium or science fair the year before to increase interest
  • Personal invitations can be very powerful - ask other teachers in the department for recommendations for students to invite

How can I reach underserved students?

  • Peer recruitment is very powerful - have younger alums do recruiting or promotion
  • Don’t invite just one student, Be active about making them feel comfortable and included
  • Personal invitations are very powerful
  • Expose students to science early, especially lab work, to spark interest
  • Allow students of all grade levels to participate and get them involved young
  • Create a subculture where it’s cool to be part of the group – have lunch together
  • Give school-level awards for participation – for great effort, resourcefulness, etc.
  • Show that you have high expectations for these students, communicate your confidence in them
  • Eliminate or waive fees for participation
  • Pay students to do research so they don’t need a different summer job
  • Have all teachers in the department encourage participation so all students get the message
  • For students in rural areas, consider e-mentoring and publicly available / crowd sourced data sets
  • Strive for diversity in mentors
  • Find projects in which the students are personally interested
  • Meet with guidance counselors to make sure they are encouraging all students to enroll in research class

While mentors are not necessary for a successful Regeneron STS project, how can I best recruit and retain mentors?

  • Advertise in university departmental newsletters
  • Visit and get to know university department chairs
  • Attend undergraduate poster sessions and seek out professors who mentor those students
  • Reach out to students parents who work in scientific fields for direct mentoring or suggestion of colleagues
  • Seek out new professors at local colleges or universities – they are generally more willing to take on a new project
  • Ask current mentors to recommend a friend to mentor, have an informational meeting/dinner
  • Invite skeptics / hold-outs to come speak to the students one year in hopes that they will like it and mentor the next year
  • When possible, arrange long-term placements.  The work the student does will be more substantial and show greater benefit to mentors
  • Make everything as simple as possible for mentors – they are very busy
  • Train your students ahead of time to ensure positive experience – how to communicate, dress, and behave professionally, safety training, ethics
  • Offer to write letters of recommendation for mentors who are applying for new grants.
  • Offer a stipend for mentors, even if small
  • If students are seeking out new mentors, have them cc you on the emails and then follow-up with the mentor to confirm the program is legitimate
  • Subject lines and first sentences are important in emails - lead with name of person who recommended contacting them
  • Send hand-written thank-you notes to every mentor (from you and/or the student)
  • Assemble an advisory panel of veteran mentors who can get more feedback from other mentors
  • Maintain effective communication between mentors, students, parents, and yourself
  • Be Persistent
  • Allow mentors to have some choice of students if possible
  • Hold the final presentations during the week so professors and college students can attend

What should I know about student supervision in reference to mentors and working in a lab?

  • Follow university’s / lab’s rules
  • Minors could have keys to lab, but should not be in the lab alone
  • A mentee should never be in a room alone with one adult
  • Safety training should be given as soon as possible
  • Establish who will do the day-to-day supervision of the student
  • Assign a grad student – two if possible, even if just in case of the mentor’s absence
  • Tell mentors if there are behavior problems to come to you
  • Program manager / teacher needs to know if students will be taken out into the field
  • Pay attention to rules for driving students – generally not a good idea.

What should I keep in mind when creating and communicating a timeline?

  • Meet with mentor and student to develop goals ahead of time
  • Communicate the timeline to parents as well
  • Establish time commitment – how many hours per week are they expected to be in lab and what hours?
  • Extending research into the school year provides continuity and greater chance of success
  • Make it a 12-week course – begin with classes / instruction before they get into lab
  • Prep students before they even talk to anyone on campus

What expectations should be communicated to all involved?

  • Provide as much info to mentors ahead of time as to the prior knowledge or ability of their mentee or at least for the mentees at this level in general
  • Use a skills assessment list for students to complete and give to the mentor so they know where they are starting
  • Explain pitfalls / bumps in the road to scientists and what they might be or have been in the past
  • Communicate to mentors what students end result will be for the HS program / class – a display board, presentation, paper, etc.
  • Ask mentors if they are comfortable with parents visiting the labs before offering this.
  • Set rules for taking photos, blogging, and social media
  • Discuss and set expectations for use/release of data

What should I do if my students want to participate in competitions with their research?

  • Explain the various competitions to them and provide dates
  • Provide information on competition requirements to mentors ahead of time
  • Explain what kind of documentation will be needed for human and animal projects
  • Come to an agreement with the mentor regarding the use of the lab notebook
  • Discuss intellectual property concerns with the mentor ahead of time
  • Writing the research report or poster:
  • Student should write the first-draft
  • Mentor can read and identify problem areas, but students should do all the re-writing.
  • Mentors can identify scientific / content errors
  • Ask mentors to allow students as much independence as possible

How can I successfully set up goals for the students and mentors?

  • Have sub-goals
  • Include parents so they understand
  • Outcome goals vs. Experience goals
  • Experiential goals
  • Learn experimental design
  • How to use lab equipment
  • Outcome Goals
  • Research paper
  • Display board / poster
  • Have frequent meetings with mentees and/or group gatherings to share progress
  • Encourage mentors to have students have lab notebooks, even for computer science/technology projects

How should I set up communications?

  • Explain to the mentors what to do or who to contact if they have any problems arise.
  • Make clear that behavior issues are unacceptable and that they should contact you immediately
  • Ask mentor to provide students with articles they can read ahead of time – students will learn how to use the university library research systems ahead of time.
  • Lay out rules for parents – if they are allowed to contact mentors directly
  • Mentors should be given survey at end of the experience to guide improvements to the program
  • Communicate to mentors if other students will be close-by and lay out rules for socializing

How should students be graded on their research?

  • Will mentor play a role? - every program is different, so you should pick what makes sense for you
  • Mentors could evaluate the end result only or could evaluate behavior and skills along the way.
  • Mentors could assign a grade and just explain if not an A
  • Mentor’s grade, nightly class, and hours in the lab could be combined
  • Have students create a journal outside of lab, since teacher may not have access to lab notebooks

From the SSP Newsroom

Science News


Science News for Students


Eureka! Lab