PERSIST: Intro to Research Project Helps Students Envision Themselves as Scientists

January 24, 2020

Amanda Nagy

Student and professor work in chemistry lab.
Assistant Professor Lisa Ryno, right, leads the PERSIST: Intro to Research Winter Term program.
Photo credit: Dale Preston '83

A new mentoring program for underrepresented students in the sciences offered a Winter Term course that informed students about undergraduate research opportunities both at Oberlin and off campus and prepared them for what to expect once they begin working in a research lab.

Led by Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lisa Ryno, the PERSIST: Intro to Research Winter Term group learned how to read primary literature, use scientific search engines, and communicate and present scientific ideas. The overarching goal was to catalyze students’ research experiences and give them the tools they need to find a laboratory in which they can contribute. 

Each week, Oberlin faculty in STEM demonstrated interesting lab techniques, such as scanning electron microscopy with Associate Professor of Geology Zeb Page, meta-learning at the Allen Memorial Museum of Art with Associate Professor of Biology Taylor Allen, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry with Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Will Parsons. Topics covered include lab safety, searching databases for literature and review articles, building a resume and personal statement, how and when to apply for summer research fellowships, best practices in making figures, and how to give a successful oral presentation.

Student working on lab equipment.
Photo credit: Dale Preston ’83

The course required students to choose a STEM topic to research in depth, construct an annotated bibliography, and give an oral PowerPoint presentation on their findings.

PERSIST, or PeERS in STem, supports underrepresented students through mentoring and networking, providing a welcoming and inclusive community, and helping students build confidence in science courses and combat impostor syndrome. PERSIST is the focus of the educational component of Ryno's Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.

“One of the primary goals of the PERSIST program is to help students build their science identity—the internal conceptualization of who a person believes themselves to be with regards to their interest and involvement with science,” Ryno says. “Through the lab experiences this winter term, students have had one-on-one interactions with six different faculty members from several STEM disciplines, using some of the most sophisticated instrumentation we have on campus. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, students see that faculty are just regular people who are incredibly excited about their area of study, and second, it demonstrates that students routinely use and interact with delicate, amazing instruments, and they collect meaningful scientific data. I hope that students leave the program, thinking, ‘I can be a scientist.’”

Photo of Lisa Ryno

Lisa Ryno

  • Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
View Lisa Ryno's biography

There is a great interdisciplinarity here. People aren’t afraid to draw on what they’ve learned in other classes and use those tools to think about other problems.

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