An article titled “Transforming Ecological Science at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) through Collaborative Networks” in the May issue of BioScience journal demonstrates the value of institutions joining forces for research. Two of the authors who collaborated on this article are Ohio Wesleyan faculty members Laurie Anderson, Ph.D., and Amy Downing, Ph.D.
The article highlights several collaborative research endeavors, including The Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) project lead by Ohio Wesleyan Professor of Botany and Microbiology Laurie Anderson, who is credited by the other co-authors as “the driving force behind collaborative research ideas; [she] took on the administrative tasks and spearheaded the proposals for funding.”
Through a five-year $494,980 grant awarded in 2010, the EREN will develop collaborative research projects that focus on regional to continental-scale ecological issues, engage students in authentic science while teaching them basic ecology, create a continental-scale ecology course module using research data that will be team-taught by scientist-educators from the participating institutions, and establish an online database of collaborative data sets collected during the project.
Others who contributed to the article are David R. Bowne (Elizabethtown College), Martha F. Hoopes (Mount Holyoke College), Kathleen LoGiudice (Union College), Carolyn Thomas and Bob R. Pohlad (Ferrum College), Tracy B. Gartner (Carthage College), Daniel Hornbach (Macalester College), Karen Kuers (Sewanee: the University of the South), Jose-Luis-Machado (Swarthmore College), and Kathleen L. Shea (St. Olaf College).
The benefits of such research outlined in the article include:
- Enabling undergraduate students to occupy research roles at PUIs that are normally only available to graduate students at research institutions
- Enabling faculty to train and work closely with students on research methods, which often leads to co-authored, peer-reviewed publications
- Creating local research programs that generate data that can be shared, combined with, or compared with data from the other institutions, encouraging interactive teaching modules that can be developed and shared
- Saving costs by reducing travel expenses and sharing of data
- Networking with other ecologists to reduce the risk of intellectual isolation that can occur at smaller, primary undergraduate institutions.
“This type of network could overcome many of the challenges and criticisms of research programs at PUIs by producing meaningful research while simultaneously training a new generation of undergraduates in collaborative research with limited time, money, and institutional resources,” the article states.