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Importance of undergrad research in area of grad school interest?

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My 11th grade daughter is dual enrolled at a local university and has been doing research in a genetics/genomics lab . She is thoroughly enjoying it and the experience is confirming her interest in biological research as a career. She says that long-term, she is interested in translational/applied biomedical research. I realize she is young and could certainly change her mind, but when considering potential colleges (undergrad), I was wondering how much we should target colleges that look like they could provide undergraduate research opportunities that are more biomedical/translational. Opinions?

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From what it sounds like, your daughter will have no problems getting into strong undergraduate programs. The majority of these top schools will have strong research in all areas including biomedical research. I don't think you have any reason to "target" programs unless you have limited funds for applications. 

More directly, doing research in the field you are interested in will certainly help your application to graduate school, but it is not absolutely necessary. However, I think that picking a school based on future research interests is a bit premature in this case. I would suggest applying to programs in the traditional manner (pick reach schools, target schools, and backups). Then, if accepted into multiple schools, use research opportunities as a criteria to select between them. 

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Agreed with above.

What's important is more so that she attend an undergraduate university with a strong research focus. Most big schools will have a wide variety of research faculty and will give her opportunities to explore her primary interest or other fields of scientific research.

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16 hours ago, bctnln1059 said:

My 11th grade daughter is dual enrolled at a local university and has been doing research in a genetics/genomics lab . She is thoroughly enjoying it and the experience is confirming her interest in biological research as a career. She says that long-term, she is interested in translational/applied biomedical research. I realize she is young and could certainly change her mind, but when considering potential colleges (undergrad), I was wondering how much we should target colleges that look like they could provide undergraduate research opportunities that are more biomedical/translational. Opinions?

Hi, it must be very exciting to see your daughter express an interest at such a relatively young age! A bit of background on me: I'm applying to graduate phd programs for fall 2018 and I have a younger brother in 12th grade that is also interested in research, he made an early decision to attend Rice University come fall.

Undergraduate research is VERY important but pursuing one in the exact area of graduate school interest is not necessarily the end all be all. I did three years of undergraduate research in a neurobiology lab that investigates rehabilitation after ischemic stroke but for graduate schools I am much more interested in molecular virology/microbiology. Pursuing a significant, multiyear undergraduate research experience is much more important. These factors will vary based on the undergraduate school your daughter will get into. Some labs may be accepting undergrads, some may not, so the choices will be limited based on who is looking for what.

In general, I would look into undergraduate schools that have a large emphasis on research and are well funded. Smaller liberal arts colleges will have more limited research experiences compared to large state schools that have large life sciences programs. I went to UT Austin and all tenure track professors conduct some sort of research on campus. Additionally, the school of natural sciences has a "Freshman Research Initiative" program that will match interested freshman undergraduates in a research lab their second semester. I would look for universities that have programs like these.

Applying to universities in the traditional manner is great advice, generally 3 reach schools, 3 target, and 3 backup - or some sort of combination in that.

Let me know if you have anymore questions!

 

 

Edited by strugglebus2k17

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2 hours ago, strugglebus2k17 said:

In general, I would look into undergraduate schools that have a large emphasis on research and are well funded. Smaller liberal arts colleges will have more limited research experiences compared to large state schools that have large life sciences programs. I went to UT Austin and all tenure track professors conduct some sort of research on campus. Additionally, the school of natural sciences has a "Freshman Research Initiative" program that will match interested freshman undergraduates in a research lab their second semester. I would look for universities that have programs like these.

Many liberal arts colleges offer undergraduates the opportunity to do research because the TT profs there are conducting research and need help since there aren't any graduate assistants or postdocs in the lab. So, I wouldn't simply eliminate all liberal arts colleges from the start, @bctnln1059. In addition, many have begun to offer similar research programs to what UT Austin offers. This is especially true of liberal arts colleges with an honors program or larger universities with an honors college.

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41 minutes ago, rising_star said:

Many liberal arts colleges offer undergraduates the opportunity to do research because the TT profs there are conducting research and need help since there aren't any graduate assistants or postdocs in the lab. So, I wouldn't simply eliminate all liberal arts colleges from the start, @bctnln1059. In addition, many have begun to offer similar research programs to what UT Austin offers. This is especially true of liberal arts colleges with an honors program or larger universities with an honors college.

I second this.  I went to a smaller school myself and had a lot of undergraduate research opportunities in NSF funded laboratories.  I managed to publish, graduate with honors, and present my thesis at national and regional conferences.  It was nice because I had a lot of opportunities to be mentored by my PI, labs were smaller, and there were no graduate students or post docs.  Of course, everyone's mileage may vary!

I want to point out the importance of working with a couple different mentors on research projects, especially if your daughter is interested in graduate school right away.  Letters of recommendation from multiple people who can vouch for her research abilities is going to be important come application time.  So in addition to attending a quality institution for research, I would encourage you to look at programs that have their students apply to REU or other summer research programs so that your daughter is able to get different experiences that way.

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On ‎1‎/‎22‎/‎2018 at 12:09 PM, rising_star said:

Many liberal arts colleges offer undergraduates the opportunity to do research because the TT profs there are conducting research and need help since there aren't any graduate assistants or postdocs in the lab. So, I wouldn't simply eliminate all liberal arts colleges from the start, @bctnln1059. In addition, many have begun to offer similar research programs to what UT Austin offers. This is especially true of liberal arts colleges with an honors program or larger universities with an honors college.

I 100% agree with this. I got my Bachelor's at a small liberal arts college and I got research experience because there are no graduate students in the labs doing most of the work, so professors are more willing to let undergraduates do a good amount of research in their labs. I would ask undergraduate students currently attending any colleges of interest about research opportunities.

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8 hours ago, bluebird8 said:

I 100% agree with this. I got my Bachelor's at a small liberal arts college and I got research experience because there are no graduate students in the labs doing most of the work, so professors are more willing to let undergraduates do a good amount of research in their labs. I would ask undergraduate students currently attending any colleges of interest about research opportunities.

Completely agree with this sentiment. I will graduate from a fairly well-known midwestern liberal arts school in May (BA in Neuro, minors in Biochemistry and Philosophy), and I was invited into the lab my freshman year. I know all of our department's faculty on a first-name basis, served on our major's committee for 2 years, and am now president of our honors society. I've been working in the same lab for a year now, collaborating with other undergrads to develop our assay from the ground-up, and was involved in the design and execution of my project every step of the way. In my lab (I worked with a young, freshly graduated PI), we really do serve as the undergrads, techs, and grad students, and I work extremely closely with my PI. I sincerely don't know if I'd have ended up where I am now without the support of our faculty, and my current PI was instrumental in helping me through the application process every step of the way. 

I knew I wanted to study neuroscience, which was helpful in choosing a college, but is not necessary. Personally, looking back, I am certain that I have received some of the best education and training possible as an undergrad in the sciences, and wouldn't pick a different school if I had to do it all over again. I received a lot of positive comments about my undergrad's program when at my first interview weekend too, which was nice.

To the OP of this thread, please feel free to PM me if you have any further questions, I do some outreach work on campus focused on getting students involved in the lab here and beyond (REUs, grad school, internships, etc) and would be more than happy to speak to my experience attending a small LAC, both the positives and negatives, and how the training I received and the connections I made here fostered my interest in pursue a career in research science moving forward. 

Edited by synapticcat

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