Lifting the veil of uncertainty from the future of science undergraduates





There is a lot of uncertainty on the path of becoming a researcher. A part of it is fueled by the current science education scenario of the country. Most of the students who take up science courses at undergraduate level wish to pursue scientific research, but is the current science education in the country training these passionate minds to become researchers?

A similar question was asked by Dr. Jyotsna Vijapurkar’s research lab through scientific testing, which was published in International Journal of STEM Education. She and her team members assessed Microbiology/Biotechnology curriculum of colleges in Mumbai, to better understand whether the students enrolled in these courses are getting prepared for a career in their field. The study was designed to test undergraduate students on their application of the concepts that they had learnt in practical and theory classes. For example, they were asked how they can sterilize the following, a) vitamin solution, b) hospital linen, c) petri plates.





The responses of the students in most cases were not satisfactory, even though they had studied concepts of sterilization (which is to make something free of germs) in theory class, but not directly practiced the different methods of sterilization in the lab.

The gaps between science teaching and how to apply those concepts in real world were further highlighted in this study. The following reasons seem to be the major roadblocks for this absence of translation between understanding and applying of the learned facts by students:

1. Examination system tests students on just learning the facts and not on problem solving and clarity of concepts.
2. Practical classes do not encourage students to conduct research, but rather to perform an experiment with predictable results in the labs, with protocols provided by teachers.

What the researchers suggested are some interesting ways to solve one of the problems with the current practice in science education in our country - the absence of opportunities in the undergraduate curriculum to equip students with the necessary skills for careers in the field.

One way to address this is to redesign practical classes to inculcate problem solving skills, for example, by doing activities like making students test different sterilization methods in the lab (suggested for the Microbiology students’ curriculum).

Another approach is to divide the entire lab curriculum into small projects, which the students can complete in groups during their three years of undergraduate training (this can be followed by most of the science courses in the country). These teaching approaches are also backed up by multiple researchers and would not only make science education more engaging for students but would make learning better and train the students in becoming effective researchers and exceling in their field.

The different job options that a Microbiology graduate can pursue include the following:

1. Research Scholar
2. Industrial Scientist
3. Lab technician
4. Teacher

Most undergraduate students wanted to pursue a career in scientific research when were asked specifically. What was saddening was the fact that the teachers themselves assessed their students to be suitable for becoming technicians (60% teachers thought so), rather than becoming researchers (only 9% teachers chose this career option) or working in industry (4%, included in others category), unless they get the required further training after completing their undergraduate course.




Dr. Jyotsna Vijaypurkar’s lab is situated in Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education (HBCSE), which is an integral part of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. Her research focus is in science education, and she works to improve science curriculum in schools along with developing methods for how to make students better understand science concepts. She also researches on what teaching practices are best suited for middle school science teachers, promoting enquiry-based teaching. Through her research work she has been trying to bring the much-needed change in the science education ecosystem of our country.
You can read the paper (it is freely accessible) published in International Journal of STEM Education here:
and if you want to know more about Dr. Jyotsna Vijapurkar, you can visit her webpage: http://www.hbcse.tifr.res.in/people/academic/jyotsna-vijapurkar
As far as the question on sterilization mentioned in the post is concerned, please feel free to write to me for knowing the answer.

Credits: Inputs by Dr. Jyotsna Vijaypurkar

4 comments:

  1. Brilliant job by you, encounter the fear of being called as Science

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am thankful to this blog for giving me unique and helpful knowledge about this topic.stem India

    ReplyDelete