CUREs to increase student resilience

By Nate Kirk, OSU College of Science

Resilient Teaching Voices Series

The fear of failure can be demotivating and counterproductive to taking the first couple steps forward. There is a large volume of literature describing this fear to emotional states (e.g. nervousness and anxiety), personality (e.g. having a fixed mindset that one is not capable of achieving the goal) and context (e.g. having an upcoming exam or failing a class). A review of this literature is summed up nicely in Henry et al., which addresses this problem in my field of Biological Sciences(Henry et al., 2019, 2021).  However, with original research, failure is inherent when the outcome is unknown prior to experimentation.  Therefore, as educators we should seek ways to train our students to “productively fail” and work past setbacks to eventually succeed in their coursework and their future careers.

One way that faculty can help students overcome their fear of failure is by working with them in undergraduate research experiences (UREs), where students work directly in the laboratories. This provides these lucky students with experiential learning and opportunities to train and troubleshoot when things don’t work at first (Jones et al., 2010; Junge et al., 2010). Research has shown that students that participate in UREs are more likely to enter graduate schools and benefits can be pronounced in traditionally underrepresented (URM) groups, significantly increasing student skill sets, self-efficacy and career aspirations(Carpi et al., 2017). However, these opportunities are limited and individual faculty can only take on so many students at a time without impacting their own research productivity. They also self-select for students that know some of the unwritten rules of the university. Many students are unaware that these opportunities even exist, how to approach finding them and why they actually are a benefit to them. Even if we try not to be, faculty can also be intimidating to approach especially for matters outside of course material. Finally, financial barriers can prevent students from pursuing research especially if the experience is unpaid (Bangera & Brownell, 2014). All of these things contribute to furthering achievement gaps when first-generation college students, women and URM groups do not seek out these opportunities.

Therefore, there is a push to bring our research into classrooms by developing and implementing course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs). CUREs provide many of the same advantages of UREs, but can be offered to all students matriculating through a degree or program (Krim et al., 2019). In these courses, students can be afforded opportunities to try things, have them go poorly or ineffectively, reflect with faculty or TA support and then try again.

Here at OSU, we have developed a number of CUREs ranging from the massive (~1000 students) introductory biology course to small upper-division electives. Invertebrate Zoology Lab is one of these upper-division courses that has 4 sections of ~18 students. This year we just introduced a fruit fly model system to match a colleague’s research questions. We worked together to have the students collect data that addressed master’s thesis work of one of the TAs. In brief, they were testing the effects of a high-sugar diet on the ability of files to climb and head towards light. Although the details of the project may not be relevant here, they certainly were to the students as they went from complete novices to capable researchers that can sex fruit flies, safely move them from container to container and conduct these assays. At the end of this course, we will evaluate not just their performance in the biological assays, but also how confident they are using a survey called the “Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory” to see how their comfort with failure changed from pre-course (Conroy, 2001; Henry et al., 2021). We hope that these CUREs can help our students become more resilient and confident as they progress through their degrees towards graduation. If not, we will keep revising and reiterating as we continue to gather data. 


Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences Can Make Scientific Research More Inclusive. CBE Life Sciences Education, 13(4), 602–606.

Carpi, A., Ronan, D. M., Falconer, H. M., & Lents, N. H. (2017). Cultivating minority scientists: Undergraduate research increases self-efficacy and career ambitions for underrepresented students in STEM. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(2), 169–194.

Conroy, D. E. (2001). Progress in the development of a multidimensional measure of fear of failure: The Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory (PFAI). Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 14(4), 431–452.

Henry, M. A., Shorter, S., Charkoudian, L., Heemstra, J. M., & Corwin, L. A. (2019). FAIL Is Not a Four-Letter Word: A Theoretical Framework for Exploring Undergraduate Students’ Approaches to Academic Challenge and Responses to Failure in STEM Learning Environments. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 18(1), ar11.

Henry, M. A., Shorter, S., Charkoudian, L. K., Heemstra, J. M., Le, B., & Corwin, L. A. (2021). Quantifying fear of failure in STEM: Modifying and evaluating the Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory (PFAI) for use with STEM undergraduates. International Journal of STEM Education, 8(1), 43.

Jones, M. T., Barlow, A. E. L., & Villarejo, M. (2010). Importance of Undergraduate Research for Minority Persistence and Achievement in Biology. The Journal of Higher Education.

Junge, B., Quiñones, C., Kakietek, J., Teodorescu, D., & Marsteller, P. (2010). Promoting undergraduate interest, preparedness, and professional pursuit in the sciences: An outcomes evaluation of the SURE program at Emory University. CBE Life Sciences Education, 9(2), 119–132.

Krim, J. S., Coté, L. E., Schwartz, R. S., Stone, E. M., Cleeves, J. J., Barry, K. J., Burgess, W., Buxner, S. R., Gerton, J. M., Horvath, L., Keller, J. M., Lee, S. C., Locke, S. M., & Rebar, B. M. (2019). Models and Impacts of Science Research Experiences: A Review of the Literature of CUREs, UREs, and TREs. CBE Life Sciences Education, 18(4), ar65.

Nate Kirk sampling

About the author: Nate Kirk is a faculty member in the department of Integrative Biology, specializing in sea anemones, corals and how to engage students in research via CUREs. He is also a loving father to two young children whom he hopes will be future agents for positive change.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of guest posts about resilience and teaching strategies by members of the Spring ’24 Resilient Teaching Faculty Learning Community facilitated by the Center for Teaching and Learning. The opinions expressed in guest posts are solely those of the authors.

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