Looking toward the future of medical research, a team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital recently received a five-year $540,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support a program to help students experience science in action and encourage them to consider careers in maternal and child health research.
“Most children in school are attracted to science, but only a few actually pursue research as their adult career,” says Irina Buhimschi, MD, director, Center for Perinatal Research in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s and the lead scientist for the grant. “Schools must fulfill requirements in science courses, making it difficult to incorporate problem-solving exercises at a level that could effectively capture and retain talented students in science fields. In high school laboratory courses, the result of the experiments is known in order to teach basic concepts. In a research lab we seldom search for what we already know. Excitement in our work arises when solving a problem opens another. How to feel comfortable approaching problems that require knowledge from many disciplines is difficult to teach in school; art and science are taught in a fragmented manner and good grades are generally given only for correct answers.”
The “Futures Matter Program” will be a 10-week summer research experience for 20 talented local high school students, with underrepresented minority, economically disadvantaged and disabled students strongly encouraged to apply. More than 25 researchers from Nationwide Children’s will serve as mentors to the students in five interdisciplinary teams. The teams are designed to maximize the idea of team science, with mentors representing a wide array of medical and scientific fields.
“An important theme for the Futures Matter Program is that of multidisciplinary collaboration,” says Katie Campbell, manager, Research Education and Development at Nationwide Children’s and the administrative leader for the program. “The workforce of the future will need to embrace collaboration over individualism. Successful research requires interaction among many scientists with different skills, training and experience, as well as the ability to work together productively.”
“The students in our program will not only be introduced to concepts beyond those taught in a classroom laboratory,” notes Dr. Buhimschi. “They will experience a culture of collaboration where boundaries between traditional scientific fields are broken and ultimately merged. For example, by participating in brainstorming discussions where computer scientists, biologists, physicians, mathematicians, graphic designers and economists routinely work together, students will understand that not knowing, asking questions, and not being able to fully understand natural processes is ‘OK’ and what real scientists deal with every day.”