Catch a Budding Scientist (:>)

James F Gilliam jfgzo at
Fri Apr 26 23:06:37 EST 1996

michelle morton (mbmorton at wrote:
: Having discovered that I just can't seem to get enough of wildlife and
: nature studies on the Discovery Channel, as well as every book I can
: get my hands on about biology, chem, biochem, biophysics, math, etc,
: I've decided that I want to pursue a career in science.  My long term
: goal is to become a physician's assistant, but I plan on spending the
: next few years joyfully and happily exploring my interests in the
: sciences.  
: As I'm going to school, I'd like to get a wide exposure to the various
: disciplines.  Because my interests are broad at this point, I'd like to
: combine my schooling with part-time jobs along the way that parallel
: these.  I'm interested in possibly doing some wildlife and/or habitat
: studies;  or working in a biology, microbio, biochem or orgo lab(s). 
: How do I go about finding these types of positions?  I'm open to
: working either on or off-campus.  Any suggestions would be greatly
: appreciated....


I'm not clear on whether you are in college, or planning to enter.  One of
the best ways to become involved in research is to go door-to-door in your
Bio (or Zoology, or Fish and Wildlife, etc.) Department, expressing your
interest, and making your time available.  I often introduce undergrads to
graduate students who might need some help.  I also sometimes have as many
as 6 undergrads working with me when I have a field-intensive project;
some of the students might participate just one afternoon every couple of
weeks, and others do more.  Undergrads can sometimes become fully
assimilated fully into a research lab group.  There are many cases in
which an undergraduate takes some part of a larger project as her/his own,
and accomplishes work that should be, and is, published.  Undergraduate
research experience is often the single most important part of obtaining a
position in a top graduate school with a top major professor. 

If your school has one or more profs with NSF (National Science
Foundation) grants, one great opportunity is that holders of such grants
can apply for supplemental Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
funds, which provides a summer stipend, and about $2,000 for other costs. 
For example, I have taken 3 undergraduates to my research site in the
tropics, using REU funds; 2 of those students are now in graduate school
with top profs, and the third is on his way.  Institutions can also apply
for "REU sites" funding, with which they can bring in several (say, 10-12)
undergraduates from various colleges for a summer (usually) research
experiences.  REU experiences, like the Peace Corps or a special
Fellowship that gives a chance to travel, can be life-changing experiences. 

So... don't be shy; contact profs early, and check back on promising
leads.  Often profs will not be able to put you onto a project, but
sometimes they will.  Make yourself useful, read everything you can 
about the work (asking questions if fine, but requesting or finding 
reading material is better), and you can get much out of such 

I hope this helps.

Jim Gilliam
Department of Zoology
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617

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