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Large university vs. small liberal arts

Pat Wilson paw at coos.dartmouth.edu
Mon Nov 21 18:12:35 EST 1994

acaudy at FREENET.COLUMBUS.OH.US (Amy Caudy) writes:
>> 	I am a high school senior in the midst of the college scramble.  I
>> plan to major in microbio or molecular bio.  I have had a long
>> relationship with a local university of fairly good regional reputation
>> where I work on lots of DNA recombination, PCR, and some free radical
>> stuff.  It is a wonderful relationship, but the school is small.  Of
>> course, I would be able to continue my work and not have to beat my way
>> into labs for permission to wash petri dishes.  However, the department
>> has only 11 people (including zoo, botany, and microbio).  Alternatively,
>> I am considering some larger universities (Duke, Case Western, MIT,
>> Harvard).  Being with other highly intelligent students (as well as having
>> a critical mass of professors in research) appeals to me, but I want to be
>> sure that I have plenty of opportunities for research as an undergraduate.
>>  I plan to go for PhD if not also MD with the plans of becoming a
>> researcher.  My mentor at the small college has told me that I would
>> really be a hot graduate prospect if I got several papers out as an
>> undergrad.  He has said that the opportunities for publication would not
>> be as easy at a larger place.  I would be delighted to hear about any of
>> your experiences, either personally or on the net.  Thank you.

It's almost always a good idea to get exposed to new scientists 
and techniques.

Since it's a pretty significant four years you're talking about, if I
were you, I'd concentrate more on the other aspects of the schools 
you're considering (do you care how far away from home they are?  are
you used to being in a large school, or do you think you'd be lost
with 1500 classmates?  do you like cities, or would you feel nervous?).

There's a _lot_ more to college than academics.  Please do yourself a
favor and don't be *too* tightly focussed at this stage - you sound
as though you've done great work already, and will do more, but take
advice from someone who's been there - college is the last place you'll
ever have a real opportunity to explore lots of different things - don't
let that chance slip away by burting yourself in the lab *all* the time!

You may very well have more opportunites for research at a smaller
(or more undergraduate-centered) school - undergrads can, if they're
not careful, get lost in the crowd if there are a lot of grad students
around.  On the other hand, if you're persistent, you can find a good
lab and an interesting topic, and your odds of publishing should be
pretty good.  Many schools now have "Women In Science" programs, too,
that you can take advantage of (even though you're already *doing*
science).  Ask your current mentor for letters of introduction to
people he knows at the schools you're considering.  Make sure you
go on a campus visit, if you haven't already, and scope out the
labs, ask about undergrad research prospects, and such.  Look
at living conditions, too - how close are the dorms to the labs?
How safe is it at night?  What does the student body do for fun,
and/or can you identify organizations of/for people you think
you'd like to know?

Good luck!  

Pat Wilson
paw at coos.dartmouth.edu

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