Why Experience is Important
"Experience required"... Everyone has seen this phrase at the end of job advertisements. And even though many entry level positions may not require experience, graduates who enter the job market with experience have an advantage.
This is only one of the several very good reasons the Department of Microbiology encourages its undergraduates to obtain laboratory and/or research experience. Besides providing real substance for that first résumé, research experience with a faculty member is an opportunity to experience science in the making and can give you a true sense of what research scientists do. You will have the opportunity to participate as part of a team, along with graduate students and perhaps other undergraduates, working on particular project with the faculty member directing the lab. It is a great way to test the waters and see how much you enjoy research. For many students, much of what is presented in the classroom suddenly comes alive! Participating in a laboratory research project can bring new relevance to courses and provide a new source of motivation.
This experience can help you personally, identifying your strengths and interests and helping you to make decisions about career choices and graduate and professional training.
Students who choose to apply to graduate school find that undergraduate research experience is a very significant credential to include in their application. Microbiology undergraduates have presented their research results at national and regional meetings of microbiologists and have had their results published in recognized scientific journals. These accomplishments have helped them enter graduate programs at Harvard, Cornell, Wisconsin, and Penn, as well as many other excellent programs in microbiology, biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology.
How to Get Undergraduate Research Experience
Many students acquire research experience as part of an Independent Study during the regular academic semesters or summer. An Independent Study provides academic credit for the experience, and is arranged on an idividual basis with a faculty member. To find out more about our faculty members, you can browse faculty research interests on the Department Research Overview page, search their interests by keywork, or view faculty grouped by research theme.
Once you identify areas that interest you, fill out an Application for Independent Study. Faculty members will contact you to talk with them about their laboratory focus, possible work that you might be involved with, the level of commitment you both expect and any other questions you may have.
Other opportunities to acquire laboratory experience can be found in specialized programs. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program is available UMass Amherst and at many other universities. In addition, UMass Career Services offers guidance in identifying field experience opportunities through internships and co-op positions in research labs, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and other related industries.
Experience is a key component to include in your education. Explore the options available to you in the biological sciences.