Sunday, September 19, 2010

Should Undergraduate Research be Considered in College Selection?

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This week I attended an information session at the University of Scranton. The admissions official spoke proudly of the opportunities for science research at the university. The research focus made sense at Scranton because of the many students interested in health careers. This got me to thinking about the importance and timing of research for undergrads. Students can't usually participate meaningfully in research until after they have completed some basic coursework in their freshman year. Undergraduate research is particularly important for those interested in the physical sciences, engineering or medicine. In some engineering programs(such as WPI pictured above), student research is incorporated seamlessly into class projects. In other disciplines such as history or anthropology, research can certainly be a plus on your resume but it is not as critical.

Many colleges talk about their lively undergraduate research programs. However, there is an intense level of competition to get into these programs at large universities. Many professors take on no undergrads at large research universities and some only take them if they can remain for the summer. Smaller liberal arts colleges make an effort to involve more of their interested students. Davidson, Middlebury, and Lawrence University are all colleges that I have visited recently with impressive numbers of students involved in undergraduate research. Students or parents should ask about the numbers of professors offering opportunities in undergraduate research when on college visits. The ratio of involved profesors to either number of undergrads or undergrad science majors will give you some sense of the competition required to participate.

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