Research Competencies in Chemistry

Expected by the ACS

Excerpts from:

American Chemical Society, Committee on Professional Training, Undergraduate Professional Education in Chemistry: Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures (Spring 2003).

Section 1: The Guidelines

1.1 Scope and Organization of the Chemistry Program

1.3 Curriculum Requirements

Advanced Course Requirements

1.4 Commentary on Curriculum Requirements

1.6 Commentary on Faculty, Staff, and Facilities Requirements


Section 1: The Guidelines

1.1 Scope and Organization of the Chemistry Program

A strength of chemistry as general education as well as professional training is that problem-solving skills are emphasized and developed. Problem-solving skills cross the traditional subdivisions of chemistry. Enhancing the learning of how to solve problems may lead to less emphasis on coverage of content and to greater emphasis on projects. The guidelines are expressed in ways that encourage integrating the subareas of chemistry and emphasizing problem-solving. Optimal learning occurs where problem solving and laboratory experience reinforce the study of essential content. In addition, undergraduate research projects can be powerful examples of problem solving. Problem solving also lends itself to teamwork, the manner in which much research and development work is done. Experience-based learning through industrial internships and other work opportunities also contributes to learning how to solve problems. Of comparable importance to problem solving is effective communication through writing and speaking.

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1.3 Curriculum Requirements

Advanced Course Requirements

Chemistry … For individual students, the advanced courses may include or even consist entirely of research that culminates in a comprehensive written report.

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Degree Options

Biochemistry … Research in biochemistry culminating in a comprehensive written report is highly recommended.

(7)

Chemical Physics … These advanced courses may include physics laboratory and/or research culminating in a comprehensive written report.

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Environmental Chemistry … These advanced courses may include research culminating in a comprehensive written report.

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Materials … at least three semester hours of an advanced course, which may be research culminating in a comprehensive written report.

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Polymers … at least three semester hours of an advanced course, which may include research culminating in a comprehensive written report.

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1.4 Commentary on Curriculum Requirements

The Core Course in Chemistry ... Throughout the core, attention should be given to teaching the principles of chemical safety and to the systematic use of chemical information.

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The First-Year Courses in Chemistry … efforts should be made to use various forms of multimedia learning resources such as computers, slide and videotape presentations, hands-on classroom activities, and Internet-based instructional materials.

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Research Undergraduate research can integrate the components of the core curriculum into a unified picture and help undergraduates acquire a spirit of inquiry, independence, sound judgment, and persistence. By doing research, undergraduates develop the ability to use the chemical literature and report effectively in spoken and written presentations.

(11-12)

The Committee strongly endorses undergraduate research as one of the potentially most rewarding aspects of the undergraduate experience. A successful project requires proper and careful attention by the faculty advisor. It places heavy demands on the faculty, the students, and the institution. The ideal research project is well-defined, stands a reasonable chance of completion in the time available, avoids excessively repetitive work, requires the student to use advanced concepts as well as a variety of experimental techniques and instruments, and develops chemical information that might be publishable. It brings the student into active contact with the research literature.

A well-written, comprehensive, and well-documented research report must be prepared, regardless of the degree of success of a student’s project. The faculty supervisor should constructively criticize the report during the draft stage. Oral, poster, and computer presentations do not meet the requirement of a comprehensive written report. Student co-authorship on a journal article, while highly desirable, is not a substitute for a comprehensive report written by the student.

As much as two semester equivalents (six semester hours) of research consistent with this description may take the place of advanced courses for certification of individual students. A good research project would involve at least 90 hours of work per semester (or the equivalent in quarter hours) and could provide the additional hours to bring the laboratory total to 500 hours. If research is used as one or both advanced courses for certification of students, the Committee asks to see examples of graded student research reports as part of each five-year review.

Research done off campus must meet the same high standards as on-site research. In addition, a faculty member at the home institution must take responsibility for the quality of the research done off-site and for the quality of the final report on the research. Such comprehensive reports on the research done off-site should be evaluated by the sponsor at the home institution and made available for submission to the CPT as part of a five-year report.

Many institutions have substantial summer undergraduate research programs. Student participation in some of these research programs may even be required. Research done during the summer, even though it may not be credit-bearing, may count toward certification of individual students (e.g., in place of senior research). For summer research experiences to be counted in this way, the work should be of at least eight weeks in duration, and the standards of final report writing should be as high as those expected during the academic year. Such final reports must be evaluated by a faculty member at the home institution and must be available for submission to the CPT as part of a five-year report.

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Related Studies. Well-prepared students should emerge from a program in chemistry with

    • practical knowledge of statistics with applications to validation of data and design of experiments
    • experience with computers, including the ability to use word processors, speadsheets, numerical and nonnumerical algorithms, simulations and computation, data acquisition, and databases for information handling and retrieval
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Foreign Language. If American students are to participate fully in chemistry today, which is worldwide in scope, they should know at least one other language and culture, even though English is the international language of science. The study of a foreign language, although not required, is highly recommended, particularly for students who plan to pursue graduate studies in chemistry.

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Communication and Teamwork Skills. Effective written and oral communication skills and interpersonal skills are no less essential to the well-trained scientist than to the humanist. … Frequent exercises in writing and speaking should be a part of the chemistry curriculum and should be critically evaluated by the chemistry faculty. Ideally, every course should be an exercise in expressing ideas clearly. Seminars, progress reports, term papers, laboratory reports, problem sets, and examinations should be evaluated for clarity as well as accuracy.

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Chemical Literature and Information Retrieval. Students preparing for professional work in chemistry must learn how to retrieve specific information from the enormous and rapidly expanding chemical literature. The complexity of this task is such that one can no longer easily acquire the necessary skills without some formal instruction. An excellent means for doing so is with a specific course, which usually would not qualify for the advanced course requirement. Other means for imparting these skills involve coordinated instruction integrated into individual courses. Library and computer exercises should be included in such instruction. In departments requiring undergraduate research, instruction in information organization and retrieval may be a part of the introduction to research. It should be recognized that adequate presentation of the subject, including an understanding of the use of Chemical Abstracts, Science Citation Index, Current Contents, PubMed, and other compilations, will generally require formal instruction. It is essential that students gain experience with online, interactive database searching, which can include some of the compendia mentioned above.

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Professional Ethics. Chemistry is a discipline in which high standards of conduct must be exemplified by teachers and researchers in ways that students cannot fail to observe and adopt. Openness about discoveries and independent verifiability of experiments reinforce good ethical practice in the field. Disclosures of unethical practices by some scientists have caused many chemists to conclude that presenting ethical principles should be an intentional part of teaching chemistry. The Committee recommends that such instruction be part of the chemistry curriculum.

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Cooperative Education and Industrial Chemistry. … Co-op programs can provide students with

    • an appreciation of technology
    • broader exposure to team research, interdisciplinary research, and societal problems
    • additional practice in preparing oral and written reports and in meeting deadlines

In some cases, part or all of the advanced course requirement might be satisfied through cooperative research carried out in an industrial or government laboratory and culminating in a comprehensive written report.

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Supplements to the Guidelines

    • advice on writing comprehensive research reports
    • chemical information retrieval guidelines
    • guidelines for undergraduate research, and
    • teaching of professional ethics
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1.6 Commentary on Faculty, Staff, and Facilities Requirements

Student Mentoring and Advising. … Undergraduate research activities can provide excellent opportunities for successful mentoring. … Students with a strong interest in and aptitude for teaching and/or research and possessing strong academic qualifications should be encouraged to continue for advanced study in chemistry or a related science.

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Last modified February 22, 2007
by Boris Teske, Prescott Memorial Library,
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA 71272