Undergraduate Research Brings Learning to Life
Graduates and professional schools want students who are disciplined, creative, independent minded, analytical, articulate problem solvers. Employers do, too. Through research students develop and demonstrate that talent.
Vincent Lombardo plans to go to chiropractic school after graduating in 2016. In the spring semester of his sophomore year, Vincent received an invitation from genetics professor James Fabrizio, Ph.D., to work in his laboratory where, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, he and his students investigate sperm development in Drosophila fruit flies. Those flies share 60% of human DNA. Many generations are born and die within one semester. Scientists study them for good reasons.
Dr. Fabrizio promised the opportunity to do real science. Vincent would be working on a team with other undergraduate researchers. He would have his own experiments. He would analyze his own and his team’s data. He and the team would present their work at scholarly conferences. The invitation was an honor; Vincent’s decision to accept immediate.
“It’s been really fun,” Vincent said as the team was preparing to present their work at an international research conference in Chicago. “I’m a hands-on person. I’d rather see science happen than read about it in a book.”
Where better to do science than alongside an NIH funded bench scientist? “Having a faculty member take you under their wing as an apprentice and mentor you through research makes for a very valuable academic relationship,” says Dr. Fabrizio. “It’s like an honors program in science.”
The team spends three to ten hours a week in the laboratory. It’s a class. They earn credits and a grade. But as Dr. Fabrizio says, in a research class, “you’re doing experiments no one else is doing, and addressing questions no one else is addressing.” Students aren’t recreating work done by others. They are scientists answering questions no one else has answered.
Original research gives students a leg up. Most undergraduate researchers in science are bound for health professions—physicians, dentists, physical therapists, or nurse practitioners. Some go to on to the best graduate and professional schools in the country: University of Chicago, University of Texas Southwestern, Columbia, Albert Einstein College of Medicine…
Undergraduate research is excellent preparation. Disciplined research cultivates imagination and creativity. As in Dr. Frabrizio’s laboratory, it can teach teamwork. “It’s almost like an intellectual salon where everybody is always talking to teach each other about ideas,” says Dr. Fabrizio. “It’s about the love of the ideas, the love of knowledge, the love of questions. It’s something they take with them wherever they go.”
Vincent sees the value. “Whatever I learn in class intertwines with what I’m doing in lab,” he says. “If you have the opportunity to do research with a professor, I’d say 100 percent do it. It’s an honor, and it’s fun.”
Last spring, more than 80 students presented original work across fields of study at the College’s Annual Student Research Symposium.