Lab Experience or Courses??

taguebw at wfu.edu taguebw at wfu.edu
Fri Aug 29 11:02:50 EST 1997


In article <Pine.HPP.3.95.970829092946.4432A-100000 at ccshst01>,
twambach at uoguelph.ca (Tina Wambach) wrote:

> I am an upper year undergraduate student in Plant Genetics. With graduate 
> students I have been discussing the question how beneficial (lab) work is
> in regard to acceptance to a graduate school (assuming the person's
> average and the finances are not the limiting factors). 
> 
[SNIP]

> I have a feeling that many of my 'collegues' at this stage are wondering
> about the same question. Maybe you can give us some advice on what exactly
> the reasons are for profs to require lab experience (e.g. if I can prove
> through in-class activities that I can function in a lab would it still
> be a factor?). Or is it simply a means of creating one additional aspect
> that helps to decide between students who might otherwise seem to be
> equally qualified?                   ...I would appreciate your time!...
> 

Tina,

I have sat on graduate admissions committee's both as a graduate student
and as faculty member. Your second statement is probably true to some
extent -- lab experience can be an additional deciding factor in accepting
a student. But I think there is more to it than that.

Working in a lab "full-time" -- either as a technician or as an
independent study student during your undergraduate years -- is much
different than the kinds of lab experiences one usually gets in
undergraduate laboratories associated with classes. Admissions committees
want to know if someone will really want to work in a lab for the 2-3
years (MS) or >5-6 years (PhD) necessary to complete the degree. Will they
be happy doing this and can they do it? And, there is a consideration of
whether a person will benefit the department or lab they're entering.
Taking on a graduate student is a large investment of time, money and
energy; lab directors like some indication whether or not people will
succeed.

There is the aspect of students learning how to design experiments and
controls, interpret data, trouble shoot experiments, etc. that, again, one
usually does not get in undergraduate labs. This is not something that can
*really* be demonstrated by the usual in-class activities.

Bottom line: there are plenty of folks that love science and/or work in
some aspect of science, but have no great love or interest in lab or field
work (science writers, patent lawyers, teachers perhaps). It may in fact
be best for *you* to discover whether or not lab science is for you before
committing to graduate school. I worked for a year and half as a
technician before grad school and I think it helped me immensely. Hope
this helps.

My 2 electrons



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