Research in undergraduate institutions

Ellen Klann emklann at
Fri Oct 31 13:23:52 EST 1997

A second summary of responses about undergraduate research:

I have encountered a variety of experiences in research both as an
undergraduate and a graduate student.  At my undergraduate institution
(Stanford University), it was not uncommon for the dedicated
undergraduates to work as hard or harder than the graduate students.
Indeed, I have heard some faculty comment that their undergraduate
research students are on par with their third and fourth year graduate
students.  Most of the undergraduates I knew worked on projects related
to the professor's research, so they may be supported right off of a
major research grant.

However, it is true that, in most cases, undergraduates will not spend
much time in the lab as graduate students because undergraduates have
classes, exams, dorm activities, vacations, etc.  When I was doing
research as an undergraduate it was very difficult for me to allocate
than 15 hours a week to research because studying for my other classes
took up so much of my time.  However, if you can get a good
to work with you during the summer, I think you may be impressed by

As a graduate student, of course, most of my time is spend in the lab,
a considerable amount of time at home is spent thinking about what's
on in the lab.  It becomes your life and your home.

So while it is true that, on the whole, graduate students may put in
time than undergraduates, there may not be a great discrepancy in the
quality of their work if the undergraduates are truly dedicated.


        I didn't respond to your first request because, well, I just
have (or take) the time.  However, after reading the depressing
from people who are at schools with no equipment, huge teaching loads,
start-up funds, and lousy pay, I just wanted to point out that not all
are so poorly equipped.  This can be a good career, don't let others
convince you otherwise.
        UW-Oshkosh ( is a
comprehensive PUI in central Wisconsin that has reasonable teaching
pays well, and is very supportive of research--both personal and that
involving undergrads.  Our department also has a MS program with about
grad students.  
        We have the following equipment (this is straight from a NSF-ILI
grant I am currently writing--they ask for year purchased and purchase
price):  My current request is for an IRGA, pressure bomb, gel
electrophoresis setup, vapor pressure osmometer, four oxygen electrodes,
and a Chl fluoresence machine.

An OK, and improving greenhouse
Good animal care facilities
A radioactivity liscence

Bioseparations Laboratory (HSC 163)
DNA/RNA synthesizer, Applied Biosystems model 392       1992    $21,500
Flouroimager, Molecular Dynamics model 575      1995    $60,000
FPLC-Pharmacia  1997    $10,000
Fraction Collector, BioRad model 2110   1992    $357
Gas chromatograph, Varian Aerograph model 2740  1973    $5,370
Glass front reach-in cooler     1994    $1,700
Growth chambers, Percival model I-35LLVLX (3 @ $4,660)  1994    $13,980
HPLC, Gilson dual pump system operated through an IBM 50Z PC    1992   
Microplate scintillation counter, Packard TopCount      1995    $45,000
PCR Thermocycler, Coy model 50  1990    $3,015
Preparative centrifuge, Beckman RC5B    1984    $11,685
Preparative centrifuge, Beckman RC5C    1996    $22,000
Scanning densitometer, Molecular Dynamics       1995    $10,000
Slide maker, Polaroid HR6000 plus Power Macintosh computer      1996   
Sonic cell disrupter, Fisher Sci. model 550     1995    $2,799
Ultracentrifuge, Beckman L8-70M         1992    $49,250
UV/vis Spectrophotometer with attachments, Cary 3E      1992    $24,517

Electron Microscopy Facility (HSC 40)
Compound microscope, Nikon Labophot w/ auto exposure unit       1987   
Critical point dryer, Ladd Research Industries  1981    $1,975
Drying oven, Fisher Isotemp     1968    $258
Energy Dispersive Spectrometer, Noran Voyager   1994    $80,000
Glass knife maker, LKB 7800     1973    $1,030
Infra-red SEM chamber scope, GW Electronics     1997    $2,950
Microfuge, Fisher Maraton 13K/M 1994    $1,516
Microtome, Histofreeze  1965    $375
Photographic enlarger, Durst Laborator 1200 point-light source  1996   
Polymerizing oven, Fisher       1969    $360
Scanning electron microscope, variable pressure, Hitachi S2460N        
1994    $115,000
Sonicator, Heat Systems--Ultrasonic Inc.        1974    $107
Sputter coater, Polaron E5100   1980    $2,795
Transmission electron microscope, Zeiss EM10C (NSF-ILI funded)  1990   
Ultramicrotome, LKB 8800 Ultratome III  1972    $12,943
Ultramicrotome, Reichert Ultracut UCT   1997    $37,365
Vacuum evaporator, Denton DV-502        1974    $2,657
Vacuum evaporator, Hitachi HUS-4GB      1973    $1,298

Virology and Cell Culture Facility (HSC 42A--NSF-ILI funded)
Autoclave, Scientific Products A9225-4  1996    $20,000
Cell culture hoods, Scientific Products L5257-1 (10 @ $2,673)   1993   
CO2 incubators, Scientific Products J1756-9 (2 @ $5,453)        1993   
Glass front, reach-in cooler    1994    $1,700
Image analysis system, Data Stor computer w/ Image Pro Plus     1993   
Inverted epifluorescence microscope w/ auto exposure, Nikon TMD        
1993    $21,919
Microplate reader for ELISA assays, Fisher BT1000       1993    $9,070
Sterilizing oven, Scientific Products N8562-17  1993    $2,163
Ultralow freezer (-80°C), Puffer Hubbard        1989    $3,800
Ultralow freezer (-80°C), Puffer Hubbard        1991    $4,685
Virological hoods, Scientific Products L5325-1 (4 @ $5,066)     1993   

Undergraduate Computer Laboratory (HSC 41)
Computers, Zenith/Pentium (5 @ $3,150)   1993    $15,750

Media Preparation Room (HSC 172)
Autoclaves, Castle MDT (7 @ $20,000)    1996    $140,000
Dishwasher, Lancet 1600 UP      1996    $10,000
Total           $1,027,788

        We have a Faculty Development Program that funds summer research
up to 15% of your nine-month salary.  I have received almost $20,000
that program in my 4 years here at UW-O.
        We have a permanent property funding program.  I received
from them last spring (but turned it down because I got that piece of
equipment, an ultramicrotome, on an external USDA grant).  I got $3,500
1996 and $6,000 in 1995.
        We teach 9 "hours" a semester.  This amounts to 4 or 5 classes a
year.  We usually stick to our established courses, i.e. we don't do 5
preps a year.
        I got $22,500 in start-up funds from the dean upon my arrival. 
let me spend it any way I wanted.
        I am an assistant professor in my fifth year at UW-O.  I came
7 years post-doccing experience, one semester teaching experience, no
history of external grants, and 16 publications.  I make $41,808 for my
nine-month contract.   Summer support from  the UW-O FDP (+15%) adds
to that;  external support (+22%) adds $9200 to that.  I currently have
small, 24-month USDA grant and make ~$51,000 a year.  I have published
times since coming to UW-O in the fall of 1993.

        We try to include undergraduates in our research programs (the
administration really likes to see this).  Most of the projects do not
to a publication and the time involved is huge.  If I wanted to generate
data, I would do much better to kick all of the studetns out of my lab
do the work myself.  But that's not the point.  The point is to maintain
personal research program as I help get undergrads interested in
If we can produce a publication, all the better.  I have had 8 students
my lab and I have one pubication and have two more in preparation.  The
(which I have not mastered yet) is to find easy, doable, yet meaningful
projects.  Except on rare occassions, undergrads lack the knowledge,
motivation, and desire to perform really well in the lab.  You have to
accept that at the outset and forge ahead.  Only one of those 8 students
was a star--and is now working in his PhD at Duke (he was recruited by
Yale, Berkeley, U of Ill, etc).  The others were good kids who enjoyed
time in the lab and learned a little bit about science.  
        UW-O undergrads have produced the following in the last 5 years
(graduate student output is not listed).

Talks and Posters

Cho, Y.-S., X. Wu, A.I. Tsapin, L. Genzlinger*, B. Holton and T. Kallas. 
1996.  Reconstitution of the 2Fe-2S center into overproduced Rieske
and construction of deletion and fusion mutants.  96th General Meeting
the American Society of Microbiology, New Orleans, LA, May 19-23.
Beatty*, R.  1996.  Changing reproductive rates in a Neotropical forest
rodent, Proechimys semispinosus.  UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate Research and
Scholarship Forum, April 18.
Endries*, M. and G.H. Adler.  1995.  Spacing patterns within populations
a tropical forest rodent, UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate Research and
Forum, April 20.
Evrard*, Y., and B. Holton.  1994.  A23187 inhibits melanogenesis and
induces neurogenesis in neural crest/neural tube cocultures.  52nd
Meeting of Society for Developmental Biology, Madison, WI, June 15-18.
Evrard*, Y, D.O. Sullivan* and B. Holton.  1995.  A23187 induces
neurogenesis and inhibits melanogenesis in neural crest cell cultures
unless the cells are first pulsed with phorbol ester.  Midwest Regional
Meeting of Society o for Developmental Biology, Chicago, IL, March 2.
Holton, B., K. Middleton*, D. Zarka, R. Alsaadi and T. Kallas.  1992. 
Overproduction of the Reiske Fe-S protein and preparations for
of the cytochrome b6/f complex in cyanobacteria.  IXth International
Congress on Photosynthesis, Nagoya, Japan, Aug. 30-Sept. 4.
Hostetler*, K.D., D. Strohmeyer and R.R. Wise.  1996.  The use of X-ray
elemental microanalysis for ecological research.  UW-Oshkosh
Research and Scholarship Forum, April 18.
Hostetler*, K.D., D. Strohmeyer and R.R. Wise.  1996.  Differential
mortality of Canada geese ingesting waste lead gun shot.  126th Annual
Conference of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters held
UW-Stevens Point, April 27.
Mangan*, S. and G.H. Adler.  1996.  Mycophagy in Proechimys semispinosus
(spiny rat): a potential VAM spore dispersal agent.  16th Annual Meeting
the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference, 12-14 April, Michigan
Molstad*, M., J. Sweere*, B. Holton and R. Lansman.  1995. 
of the mechanism of retroviral induced cell killing.  North Central
of the American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting, Iowa City, IA,
Oct. 17.
Reardon*, D and T. Kallas.  1996.  Characterization of fluorescence
emission phenotypes in electron transport mutants of the cyanobacterium
Synechococcus PCC 7002.  UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate Research and
Forum, April 18.
Ristow*, R. and B. Holton.  1996.  Use of image analysis software to
quantify the effects of cell fate-perturbing drugs on neural crest cell
differentiation.  UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate Research and Scholarship
April 18.
Seiser*, R.M., B.L. Wagner*, M.F. Blackwell and R.R. Wise.  1996.  State
transitions in thylakoids under short-term photoregulatory conditions. 
Annual meetings of The Biophysical Society, Baltimore, MD, Feb. 18-22.
Slawny*, N. and B. Holton.  1997.  Localization of protein kinase C
distribution during quail embryogenesis.  UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate
and Scholarship Forum, April 17.
Slawny*, N. and B. Holton.  1997.  Developmental changes of protein
C distribution in tissues of embryonic quail embryos. 13th International
Congress of Developmental Biology, Snowbird, Utah, July 5-10.
White*, S.L. and R.R. Wise.  1997.  Anatomy of two Wolffia species
to Wisconsin.  UW-Oshkosh Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Forum,
April 17.
Wu, X., Y.-S. Cho, A.I. Tsapin, L. Genzlinger*, B. Holton and T. Kallas. 
1995.  Reconstitution of the 2Fe-2S center and g-1.90 EPR signal into
overproduced Nostoc PCC 7906 Rieske protein and construction of mutants. 
Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria Workshop, Asilomar, CA, July 21-25.


Adler, G.H., M. Endries* and S. Piotter*.  1997.  Spacing patterns
populations of a tropical forest rodent, Proechimys semispinosus, on
Panamanian islands. Journal of Zoology (London), 241: 43-53.
Adler, G.H. and T. E. Lambert*.  1997.  Ecological correlates of trap
response of a Neotropical forest rodent, Proechimys semispinosus.
of Tropical Ecology, In press.
Adler, G.H. and R.P. Beatty*. 1997. Changing reproductive rates in a
Neotropical forest rodent, Proechimys semispinosus. Journal of Animal
Ecology, In press.
Hostetler*, K.D., D.S. Strohmeyer and R.R. Wise.  Localization of lead
medullary tissue of mature female geese femurs explains their resistance
poisoning from ingested lead shot.  In preparation.
McDermott, C.M., R. Feola* and J. Plude.  1995.  Detection of
cyanobacterial toxin (microcystins) in waters of northeastern Wisconsin
a new immunoassay technique. Toxicon 33:1433-1342.
Seiser*, R.M. and R.R. Wise.  The dynamic nature of thylakoid stacking
response to light.  Photosynthesis Research,  In preparation.
White*, S.L. and R.R. Wise.  1998.  Anatomy and ultrastructure of
columbiana and W. borealis (Lemnaceae).  International Journal of Plant
Sciences, In press.

        So, to your original question....  Yes, undergraduate research
exist and can lead to publications.  In my opinion, it is quite
from graduate research--especially PhD research.  The goal (as defined
me and as defined by the university tenure committee), however, is
students interested in research--a peer-reviewed publication is a
secondary, and fairly uncommon benefit.
        To the point of no money, time, or resources with which to do
research...  I realize that I got off of the main point, but I feel all
these issues are related.  Support is institution specific.  We at UW-O
doing pretty well, I think.  Undergraduate research at other schools is
as well supported.  And academia can be a good career.


I really enjoyed your summary of posts on undergraduate research -
although I was rather surprised by the one person who went on about not
going into it because it will eat you up.  I would really be curious if
they though it would eat you up more than "big" academic research.  

For me, the real issue about undergrad. institutes is the tenure
requirement - that is, how realistic is a given dept. about its capacity
to support research and is this in line with their tenure decisions.
Right now is a really weird time, I think, for a lot of small
colleges/universities because there is this prevalent notion that they
"research" institutes and should have standards like "real" research

I worked at the most well-funded public research institute for eight
years, after attending a small liberal arts undergrad. institute and I
will say it loud and clear:  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME AND WILL NEVER BE!

I have known many small college profs who have simple left small
because, when it came to tenure, the decision was going to be weighted
surprisingly more on research than teaching.  And I knowingly am taking
that risk in pursuing a comparable tenure track position.  I tried to
the right questions and glean from the people here how important grants
and publications are in terms of tenure - but the fact is - especially
me - it is probably a black hole.  We are in the process of retiring 3-5
faculty who have been here for 20+ years and haven't done research... so
the game could change if younger new faculty come in with grants (and I
will be curious, as part of three selection committees this year myself,
to see this process - to see how important that is as a hiring
because my fate could be spelled out right there). Of course, they hired
me knowing I had no money - BECAUSE I could teach, because I was
well-connected, and because I could write - and present. When I hit the
dept.  head up with questions about what EXACTLY will be considered
adequate research for tenure, I was given information like:  I earned
tenure three years ago based on training 1-2 students each year, getting
couple small equipment grants, and attending meetings every other year. 
There is NOT an emphasis on journal publications - and obviously getting
sustainable NSF or NIH grant has not been a reality here.  The start-up
money is very minimal but I know I can sustain 1-2 students doing basic
cloning and culture attempts.  The key here seems to be quality teaching
I was told point blank - it doesn't matter how much research you do or
good you are at it, if you can't teach, you won't get tenure.  

And the teaching load is rather large.  I actually replaced a faculty
came to this insititute with a big research style NIH grant and left
because they wouldn't give them adequate time off from teaching.  In
ways, I think I have come to a dept. that is realistically aware of the
fact that small universities are NOT big universities and there simply
things that can't be done or accomodated.  I like to think I made a
decision - I could be wrong but, in the words of one very dear friend: 
"*****, ask yourself what is going to be better for you in the long run,
what is going to make you happiest... to have a great time teaching and
dabbling in small research for the next six years or to flail away in
uncertainty as a post-doc.  Even if you don't make tenure, you have more
realistic experience to get a position teaching, which is what you love
most.  "  This is a mentor of mine from my undergrad. research days who
did leave a small school after five years - he wound up going to the
community college level, where he has thrived extremely well.  Research
was never his primary thing, even though he was an exceptional grad. 
student and did successfully lead students through small research
projects at my old, old school.  But the school didn't think it was
enough for tenure.  I always live with his story in the back of my mind.

But, at the same time, I have always known the answer to his question as
well.  That's why I am here.


As a chair of a search committee and a plant biologist (whatever that
means) at a mainly undergraduate institution, let me give you a few

1. Do some research on the places you are applying to as to the current
faculty, research interests, and research capability.  There is wide
variation among these places.  Some are endowed beyond belief and others 
well...don't have the proverbial pot to pee in.  The vast majority are
probably in the middle, but I have first hand experience with the latter
example.  Tailor your application to the institution.

2.  Teaching responsibilites at these types of places may mean 3-4
classes per semester (9-15 credit hours).  Depending on the size of the
school you might not have a graduate program; therefore, no TAs for
labs, unless they use upper level undergrads or have staff for that
purpose.  The lesson here is to come up with research projects that
don't need your attention everyday.  Anything involving radioisotopes is
probably out.  PCR based projects are a godsend to people who teach
alot. You won't have time and neither do most undergraduate students.

3.  Keep you statement of research interests short and to the point.  I
do not want to read a 5 page preproposal that's single spaced on some
arcane project.  Keep in mind that senior faculty at some of these
places may have no idea about molecular techniques.

4.  In your statement of teaching interests/philosophy don't focus only
on upper level students and courses.  At some point everybody in a small
department teaches general biology either for majors or as a service

5.  When you make it to the interview stage ask lots of questions, but
as you are toured around keep your eyes open and your mouth shut.  This
is where you can assess the equipment situation.  You can also assess
whether there are kingdoms or fiefdoms.  Yes, they exist in smaller
places too.  What you have to find out is are these kingdoms accessible?
They can be dangerous places.

6.  If you get an offer, get any and all startup funds you can. Make
sure that you have some type of lab or space for research.  Sharing
space with another faculty member is okay.  It's annoying, but I've been
doing it for years now.  Get all this in writing.

In a general sense you are selling yourself to a department.  In turn
the department is asking itself: How will this person fulfill our
departmental needs? Can we get along with this person?  and one of the
most important questions: Can this person be a successful
teacher/researcher in our environment?

FYI: I have had 22 undergraduates doing research with me in the past 10
years. Not one refereed publication has resulted from any of this work.
Yes, there are some posters and some talks some of them were coauthors
on.  Recently I have had a couple of students, who will be coauthors if
the project works out.  The main problem is time.  I haven't had the
time from teaching to bring closure to several things and students have
not be around long enough for them to be comfortable with the work and
get enough data for a decent attempt at publication.

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