CID Summer 2005 Convening: Developing Researchers and Scholars

Topic 1: Asking Questions and Developing a Line of Inquiry

University of Oklahoma - Chemistry and Biochemistry

This Snapshot describes how the doctoral program in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry helps teach students to ask questions and develop a line of inquiry. Launching an investigation involves posing questions to advance the frontiers of knowledge and provide new ways of understanding. As students develop, they move from accepting questions that others pose, to critically evaluating questions, to posing and defending questions of their own, and ultimately to asking questions that cohere into a research program that extends over time. Along the way students learn to discern the important or pressing questions of the moment, to form a vision of what constitutes a "meaningful" question, to judge which problem areas are interesting and ripe for investigation, and to identify manageable questions to pursue.

Summary Description

The explicit goal of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) is to more purposefully structure doctoral programs to educate and prepare those to whom we can entrust the vigor, quality, and integrity of the field, the "stewards of the discipline."

An OU Chemistry/Biochemistry CID mini-symposium was held in March 2005 to discuss improvements and changes to our graduate program. At the end of the day, we hoped to arrive at a decision that the majority of the faculty could support. Specifically, we focused on 1) the graduate curriculum and 2) the general exam. An overarching theme for our discussions included modification of our current divisional structure as it pertains to our graduate program.

We are moving forward in our departmental efforts toward implementing these changes. An underlying goal of the changes to the graduate curriculum and the general exam is to improve on how we educate and prepare our graduate students for research and scholarly activity.

Tools and Resources

Presently, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Oklahoma uses a variety of means to develop our students as researchers:

  • Annual Graduate Advisory Committee Meetings
  • Student seminars
  • Preliminary examinations
  • General examinations
  • We are also developing new approaches that will be implemented into our graduate program:

  • Core Course for first year graduate students
  • changes to the general exam

  • Goals for Students

    What is the purpose of the Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry? One obvious goal is to learn (know) chemistry. Perhaps more importantly is the goal of learning to do research. Asking research questions and developing a line of inquiry are key to what we want Ph.D. graduates in chemistry to possess when they graduate. But stepping back the furthest, the largest goal is to prepare our Ph.D. graduates for a career in industry, academia, government, or other non-traditional careers in chemistry and biochemistry.

    Conceptual framework... (full size)

    Program Context

    Core Course for first-year graduate students:

    The object of this exercise is to design and implement a one-year core course that would encompass the minimal base of common chemical knowledge expected of our Ph.D. graduates. The primary focus is on chemical structure and reactivity. The traditional areas of biochemistry, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry furnish important chemical systems in which the fundamentals of structure and reactivity will be developed and applied to questions of chemical/biochemical function. Physical chemistry supplies the underpinnings of a molecular view, while analytical chemistry proves essential techniques to identify composition and structure. It is essential that the course be integrated and coherent, rather than comprehensive. The intent is that this course will serve as a “springboard" for more highly specialized courses.

    Preliminary and General Exam:

    Question/Premise: What are the learning/assessment goals of the preliminary and general exams? Preliminary and General exams should effectively address pan-departmental learning/training objectives.

    Prelim. Exam Option A:

    Qualification to take the General exam is based on written proficiency exam(s) during first year based on undergrad. level knowledge.

    Prelim. Exam Option B:

    A set of written exams (e.g. 2-4) covering topics/content/skills at the graduate level of is given in the students' 3rd or 4th semester; an exam in each area (e.g. organic, phys, bio, etc) is available and the student selects (after inspection) which exam he/she completes. To pass the exam a student will accumulate some minimum number of total points in his/her major area; some percentage of points may be earned in a second area. (announced topics ? other variations?)

    General Exam Option A:

    Research Proposal- on or related to the student's research project, done during 3rd of 4th semester

    General Exam Option B:

    Research Proposal- not related to the student's research project, done during 3rd of 4th semester (or better later ??)

    How Do We Know?

    Student research seminars.

    Preliminary examinations.

    Original research proposal.

    General oral examination.

    Unanswered Questions

    Can we develop breadth of expertise and knowledge in addition to depth?

    Can the standards for evaluating students be standardized across the sub-disciplines of chemistry?

    Contact Information

    Robert P. Houser (faculty, CID Team Chair)

    Tim Click (graduate student)

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