Research Opportunities for Undergraduates in Molecular Genetics
Undergraduate students in Molecular Genetics face many exciting career opportunities. Many of our graduates go on to Medical, Dental, Veterinary, or other professional schools. Many pursue graduate degrees to qualify for university faculty appointments or research positions in industrial or government laboratories. Other graduates go directly to positions in biology-oriented businesses such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, or agriculture.
Biologists are increasingly able to analyze and manipulate the genetic material of important organisms. This includes, for example, the ability to sequence DNA and move genes between different organisms. Now, more than ever before, modern programs in life sciences must include an intensive laboratory experience. Our students must be familiar with methods such as recombinant DNA techniques, just as 20 years ago every biologist had to know how to use a microscope. All the career choices mentioned above are greatly facilitated if the student has hands-on experience in modern laboratory techniques.
Molecular Genetics has created an academic program that emphasizes the laboratory experience in two ways. First, junior and senior students take at least one of two laboratory courses involving rigorous and intensive training in Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics (MG 601) and in Cell Biology and Developmental Biology (MG 602). Additionally, our students are encouraged to take non-departmental (elective) laboratory courses offered in Biochemistry and Microbiology. These formal courses are general in the sense that students are exposed to a wide variety of techniques and exercises. Second, our students are encouraged to work in one of our research laboratories for credit under MG 693 or H783. This research experience allows the student to focus on a specific area of the field and gives exposure to modern research techniques.
As noted above, the faculty of the Department of Molecular Genetics do research in genetics, molecular biology, cell biology and developmental biology. They approach scientific problems from the molecular to the population level in a number of different research areas. The faculty study viruses, fungi, protists, plants and animals as well as human beings. Although these systems and organisms are diverse, it is important to recognize that at the molecular level, all organisms are founded upon a uniform genetic plan based upon nucleic acids.
Students who are interested in this research experience should proceed as follows. The student should first confer with their Department Advisor and review the Faculty Research Interests which is a short description of the research activity for each faculty member.
The student then arranges to meet with one or more of the faculty to discuss the possibility of doing research in the faculty member's lab. When a faculty member has agreed to supervise the student's research, the student enrolls in Molecular Genetics 693 (individual studies) to receive from 2-5 credits/quarter for working in the laboratory. Initially, the student would meet regularly with the faculty research advisor and his/her graduate students to receive the training necessary to implement the project.
The training period typically lasts 2-4 quarters during which time the student would accumulate credit hours toward his/her degree. In most cases, after the student is trained in a variety of practical aspects of the discipline, he/she subsequently becomes a valuable and productive member of the laboratory staff and should continue the independent study for 4-8 additional quarters.
During your senior year, you may enroll in "Honor's Research" or H783 (instead of 693). This will culminate in a written thesis. After successfully completing the thesis (and with approval from the Arts and Sciences Committee) the student is eligible for "Graduation with Distinction in Molecular Genetics". Graduation with distinction is a mark of excellence that documents the student's desire to pursue an active research career. Because of the protracted training period (see above), it is necessary for students to begin their research well before their senior year. We recommend that students make initial contacts with potential research advisors either at the end of their sophomore (or at the very latest the middle of their junior year) and plan on beginning a 693 project (see Sample Curriculum page which discusses timing issues). This allows ample time for the training period and gives the student the option of doing research over the summer between the junior and senior year. This summer experience is especially important for H783. A number of scholarships are available to undergraduate researchers for summer support, or the faculty advisor is sometimes able to provide support (see Scholarship page). In addition, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Simcox are currently running a summer program funded by NSF called the "Research Experience for Undergraduates" which funds students from OSU and other institutions in research labs over the summer. Contact Dr. Simcox about MG-REU Program. Although undergraduate honor's research is not required for graduation, the Department strongly emphasizes this experience.
A warning about Grades: It is absolutely essential that students perform to their best abilities in the classroom. On one hand, undergraduate research is an attractive part of the educational process; on the other hand, working in a lab takes one away from other endeavors (free time, study time). Since grades are important, we advocate that students with marginal grades (below a 3.0) spend time improving their course performance rather that devoting time to research.