Talk About Teaching - Nursing Research

Talk About Teaching


Making the Right Things Happen: Research and the Undergraduate Nursing 



By Linda P. Brown and Lorraine J. Tulman

   At a research university, what is the typical undergraduate 

student's involvement in research? What should it be? And what could it 

be for a student who desires more than the typical experience?

   At the School of Nursing, the core courses in the undergraduate 

curriculum include statistics (including using computers to analyze a 

data set from a faculty research study funded by the NIH) and research 

methodology. The knowledge gained from these courses is then applied to 

nursing practice in the undergraduate core clinical courses.

   Not all students desire individualized research experiences, nor 

could (probably) all students be accommodated if that were the case.  In 

considering the type of student who might gain from more extensive 

involvement in research, we usually seek out those students who can 

increase their academic load over the required plan of study-academic 

standing is certainly a consideration but also a high level of 

persistence, tolerance of ambiguity, and maturity is needed as well. In 

addition, building individualized research experiences for the 

undergraduate student requires both student and faculty creativity, 

planning, and perseverance. The University offers various opportunities 

for the undergraduate student that can be combined in creative ways to 

expand the contact between faculty and student for intellectually 

meaningful work. The Nassau Fund Award, the University Scholars program, 

and independent study courses can be combined as a means of pooling both 

time and money, and offer both prestige and academic credit for a unique 


   Unfortunately, many faculty may view incorporating the 

undergraduate student into their research team as having a net effect of 

slowing down their research productivity. However, if complementary 

agendas can be achieved, incorporating an undergraduate into a faculty's 

research team can enhance the faculty's program of research and provide 

an opportunity for the student to acquire hands-on experiences in that 

discipline's research process.

   An example of how this can work follows. One of us (L.B.) and 

colleagues were investigating jaundice in healthy breast-fed infants 

during the first month of life using a transcutaneous bilirubinometer 

(TcB; Air Shields/Minolta Inc.), a non-invasive instrument for the 

measurement of serum bilirubin. Because the reliability of the TcB 

varies with skin pigment, the first funded study focused on Caucasian 

infants, as the TcB was most reliable in this population. When second 

stage funding was requested from the National Institute for Nursing 

Research at the NIH to expand the sample, the reviewers suggested that 

the study population be expanded to include breast-feeding infants from 

diverse ethnic backgrounds. This required that the TcB be normed on such 

infants. The first step was to calibrate the instrument on non-white 

breast-fed infants. This posed a serious problem, as few non-white 

breast-fed infants were available at our study site. However, it also 

created an opportunity for student involvement in a circumscribed 

research project appropriate for an undergraduate student.

   At this time, one of our students expressed an interest in working 

on faculty research projects. Additionally, the School had recently 

initiated a faculty exchange program with the Kamuzu College of Nursing 

in Malawi, Africa. The time was ripe, the question immediate-would this 

student consider traveling to Malawi to obtain TcB calibration data on a 

population of Malawian infants? Her response was also immediate-show me 

the way. With only nine months until departure for Malawi, preparations 

needed to move quickly. Undergraduate research dollars were obtained 

through the Nassau Fund and through the University Scholars Program. The 

School of Nursing faculty liaison to Kamuzu College assisted the student 

in obtaining Malawian Ministry of Health approval for the proposed 

study, which involved four months of intensive negotiation. Laboratory 

equipment was purchased and the student was trained in the research 

protocols. Upon arrival in Malawi, the student spent a productive month 

identifying subjects, obtaining informed consent from study 

participants, implementing the research protocol to collect the data and 

handling equipment emergencies. For example, one of the TcB's internal 

battery failed and the student was able to find one of the few 

electrical engineers in Malawi who happened to have familiarity with the 

TcB and who was able to repair the meter. The outcome of all of this: a 

jointly authored (faculty and student) manuscript reporting the findings 

of this study is currently under review. In addition, the findings of 

this work were included in the proposal resubmitted to the NIH by the 


   We have an immense intellectual resource at the University-the 

undergraduate student population. Involving undergraduate students in 

faculty research not only can further faculty research but assist in the 

recruitment of the best and brightest, bolster the intellectual 

atmosphere of the university, and may entice a few young minds to 

consider research as a career goal. 

This article is the fifth in a series developed by the Lindback Society 

and the College of Arts and Sciences. Drs. Brown and Tulman are 

Associate Professors in the School of Nursing. Dr. Brown is also a 

Lindback Award Recipient.

(Artwork by Dr. Brown's 12-year-old daughter, Julie, accompanied this 



Volume 41, Number 20
February 7, 1995

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