The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

GenBank and the promise of online resources for undergraduate research


1Anthropology, University of Iowa, 2Science, Kennedy High School

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

Undergraduate involvement in research is increasingly seen as a net positive for students, research faculty, and colleges and universities. Students gain valuable experience and knowledge prior to starting a research career, faculty advance their research, and universities employ these opportunities to recruit talented undergraduates to their campuses. However, the brevity of undergraduate research programs typically precludes the completion of ambitious projects, especially those involving large datasets and complex analysis. Here, we describe how publicly available genetic data, free online programming courses, open-source population genetic software, and cloud-based super-computing resources have reduced the temporal restriction on the scope of undergraduate research as performed by undergraduates at the University of Iowa. We identify several key areas in which online resources enhanced the analytical component of undergraduate research. First, publicly available online data allows mentors and undergraduates to focus on the development of analytical expertise, which is often precluded by the necessity of time-consuming data collection. Second, open-source population genetic software and web-based high performance computing resources allow undergraduate students to analyze data using state-of-the-art methods run on powerful computers, which are often unavailable in sufficient quantity locally. Finally, free online computer programming courses enable students to gain expertise in scripting languages, data manipulation, and algorithmic thinking that supplements hands-on instruction by mentors. We conclude that in combination these features enable more undergraduates to perform more expansive research with faculty, and that these same features allow the extension of meaningful research experiences outside of the university and into a high school setting.