Becoming Researchers: The Participation of Undergraduate and Graduate Students in Scientific Research Groups

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This study sought to understand how graduate and undergraduate students learn to do science by participating in research groups. A phenomenological approach was used to illuminate the experiences of the students. The results provide evidence that the students were in the role of apprentices, although this was not made explicit. As apprentices they learned by doing as legitimate peripheral participants in the groups. Mentoring was distributed among the group, with more advanced students providing much of it. The groups were both communities of practice and epistemic communities in which students gained methodological and intellectual proficiency. Finally, student learning in research groups can be conceptualized as learning trajectories that enter the group, traverse characteristics of communities of practice and epistemic communities, and leave with the students as novice researchers, proficient technicians, or knowledge producers. The implications for K‐12 science education are that it is unrealistic to expect teachers to achieve the proficiency in traditional short‐term research experiences that would prepare them to teach their students how to engage in authentic scientific research, and that these experiences should be structured so that the teachers are placed in tightly organized research groups with mentors who explicitly teach them how to do science.

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Science Education, v. 97, issue 2, p. 218-243