undergraduate research

Cynthia M. Galloway c-galloway at TAIU.EDU
Thu Oct 30 15:26:28 EST 1997

>>Just a few other thoughts on this subject.

I'll add my two cents worth here.  Since the institution I am at is
predominantly undergraduate, all of my research has been with undergrads.

>>I agree wholeheartedly with the responder whose reply began "An interesting
>>problem".  Undergrads require much more hand-holding than grad students,
>>don't have the concept of how to trouble-shoot and have only a few hours a
>>week to work.

I really agree with this because, I am with the students about 100% of the
time.  I'm leaving them on their own more and more as they repeat the
experiments more.  The two undergrads working for me now are also in my
Plant Phys. class so I just had them expand on a technique they learned in
class. We turned up some interesting points to follow up on but, when they
looked at their data they never noticed the trends but, after I pointed them
out, they started looking more closely.

>>I started out trying to have undergrads in my research lab do what I
>>thought would be simple DNA projects.  They got no where, although they
>>learned a lot.  Because they did not generate a lot of data and they felt
>>frustrated, especially since students in other labs were churning out reams
>>of numbers.

Numbers seem to be really important.  Also, they are much happier when they
can see something.  It's really hard to convince them that after a whole day
of extraction there really is RNA in their eppendorf.

>>A better plan which has worked well for me is to identify a project which
>>is technically accessible - that is, an undergrad can learn to carry out
>>the experiment relatively quickly and can repeat it many times to get lots
>>of numbers.  Experiments that can be broken down into 4 hour blocks of time
>>are good.  For example, we were interested in the effect a chloroplast
>>mutant might have on other organelles in the cell.  We did enzme assays for
>>a variety of proteins which we had reason to think might be affected, and
>>for which reliable assays were known.  This went really well - the students
>>could grind up tissue, do their assays in an afternoon, and calculate
>>activities.  Gratification came soon after the effort in the lab.  The
>>information we gathered turned out to be very interesting and we have
>>continued to pursue it, so it was not busywork, but truly meaningful.

We did similar experiments with chlorophyll production over time and
experiments could be set up before classes started, extraction done at
different times, chromatograms run and calculations done to be plotted at
the end of the day.  

At our institution, research is done as a Special Problem for various
amounts of credit.  The maximum credit allowed is three and for each hour of
credit the student must put in three hours of work.  The two students I now
have,  put in 9 to 12 hours a week and I am in the lab with them at least
75% of the time.  It's tiring but, very rewarding when they get excited.

>There is no reason to expect undergrads to behave like grads.

But, some of my undergrads work harder than our grads so, be prepared to be


Dr. Cynthia M. Galloway
Assoc. Professor of Biology
Dept. of Biology
Campus Box 158
Texas A&M University
Kingsville, TX 78363


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