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Time zones not an issue for ASU Online undergrads in research program

OURS makes traditionally on-campus opportunities available to all

Woman working on laptop and studying with reading materials

ASU Online undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds around the globe are able to complete research and publish findings through the OURS program.

June 28, 2023

Fear of negative evaluation, or FNE, is defined as a sense of dread associated with being negatively judged in a social situation. In a classroom setting, FNE might prevent a student from raising their hand, make them second-guess their knowledge of the subject matter, or cause them to break out in a cold sweat when asked to answer a question in front of the whole class.

As part of a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE), ASU Online students engage in real research touching on a variety of issues, including the impact of FNE. 

In spring 2022, 14 online students at Arizona State University took part in a CURE by researching the effect of FNE on students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The findings of their research, published this month in CBE Life Sciences Education, reveal that students who identified as LGBTQ+, first-generation college students or having a disability reported higher levels of FNE than their counterparts. 

The research the students conducted is part of the growing opportunities made possible through the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program, which was created specifically for online students to help them expand their learning portfolio and provide access to traditionally on-campus experiences.

“I was extremely excited to know that ASU was interested in helping online students gain experience in an area that is traditionally done in person,” biological sciences major Cynthia Gilabert said. 

Gilabert was recently accepted to veterinary school. The California resident didn’t think she would ever have research opportunities as an online student. She used the research course as an opportunity to boost her application and set her apart from other veterinary candidates. 

“I was able to include research and the publication of our research on my application,” she said. “Veterinary schools want to see someone who has a varied background, and having the opportunity to be a part of a research study definitely made me stand out.” 

Research opportunities online

Publishing a research paper as an undergraduate student is an impressive feat.

“This is a huge accomplishment,” said Katelyn Cooper, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences and instructor of the CURE course. “It means that as an undergraduate student, they have made a broadly relevant and novel contribution to the scientific community. It signifies that they have engaged in the process of research and that their research was reviewed by peers in the community and deemed credible, rigorous, and important for others to know about and build upon.”

The students who conducted the study are enrolled in online science programs ranging from neuroscience to biochemistry to biological sciences. To design the study and coordinate the research, they were required to juggle competing schedules in multiple time zones. 

“I think it's particularly impressive that this team was able to conduct a research program completely remotely, having never met in person,” Cooper said.

As a pre-med student, whether or not she pursued a medical career, conducting research was a big goal for Margaret Barstow.

“I prioritized being able to work throughout college,” she said. “I wanted the flexibility of being online, but I also knew I wanted to major in a STEM program.” 

Barstow, a biochemistry major currently living in Okinawa, Japan, specifically wanted to pursue her undergraduate degree online, even if it meant possibly sacrificing research opportunities.

“I thought that when I moved overseas, I was giving up any research opportunities and had made peace with that,” she said. “When I heard about the opportunity to take Dr. Cooper’s course, it almost seemed too good to be true. I was so excited to learn about conducting research while getting to work on a real project, all while still online.”

Students connected with research partners through weekly discussions, finding camaraderie that mirrored in-person schoolwork.

“I had all the same flexibility that I needed by being online, but still got to meet with my peers and work on the project in real time,” Barstow said. “Time zones and varying schedules presented challenges for working with other students throughout the week, but ultimately this was a small issue in an overall positive experience.”

Carly Busch, a PhD candidate whom Cooper mentors, helped lead the online students in their research. 

“We met with students for an hour and a half each week where we developed our research questions and worked through the data analysis and interpretation,” Busch said. “Students spent additional time each week working through asynchronous modules where they learned more about the research process and completed individual research tasks.” 

The diversity of the research team turned out to be a significant asset, as students connected and collaborated from around the globe.

“Diverse research teams are often able to counteract implicit biases, resulting in more robust research,” Cooper said. “The diversity of identities in this class was amazing. Not only were these all fully online students, but we had students living across the world, students who had served in the military, first-generation students, parents and people returning to school after a long absence. So, we really benefited from many unique perspectives as we developed our survey and analyzed the data.”

Success of OURS program

Cooper advocates for more research opportunities for online students. CUREs, like the course she teaches, provide valuable experiences to students. They help fledgling scientists develop trust in science and empower them to evaluate scientific evidence. 

Ara Austin, senior director of online engagement and strategic initiatives and a clinical associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, spearheaded the OURS program to address the pressing need for ASU Online students to participate in quality research opportunities. Without OURS, Cooper and her online undergraduate researchers wouldn’t have had the chance to conduct their research and publish their findings.

“The success of the OURS program clearly demonstrates that our online students are eager to learn and want to contribute to their respective disciplines,” Austin said. “By participating in research, the online students gain skills that will significantly benefit them in their future academic and career trajectories.”

“Having research published is a crazy feeling,” Barstow said. “This is the first time that I am having real recognition outside just grades, and it is a really validating feeling. ... I learned that I love so many aspects of research, and now it is something I can see myself doing as a career.”

Barstow said she feels like she’s not only taking steps to improve her career outcomes, she's contributing to a greater good. 

“It’s something I can feel very proud of and is a tangible piece of work I can share with others down the road,” she said. “I like being a part of making science and STEM, in general, a more inclusive field, and having that validated by publication feels amazing.”