Office of Undergraduate Biology

The Office of Undergraduate Biology provides comprehensive, high-quality academic and research advising services to prospective students, current undergraduates, alumni and faculty. Our primary mission is to serve the diverse needs of our students while ensuring that they successfully navigate the biology major and achieve their academic and career aspirations. Come see us!

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Finding Research Opportunities

Upperclass biology majors provide these helpful guidelines for finding research opportunities.

Undergraduates in the lab of Nelson Hairston, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science, perform scientific research in a supportive atmosphere. Read more

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's birding team, Team Redhead, participates in the 2013 World Series of Birding and uses the monies raised at this fundraising event to support Cornell undergraduate research and conservation projects

Selecting and Evaluating Graduate Programs

Remember that there's a great deal of diversity among graduate programs. Your task is to learn how to make use of the diversity to meet your needs and interests.

How do graduate programs vary?

  • available in a wide variety of settings: large research institutions (ones that provide both u.g. and grad training, and those that only provide grad training)
  • available in a wide variety of program options (within same school, from one school to another) - have to do a lot of digging for information, e.g. - to find molecular biology, have to look in different areas for different schools
  • philosophies re: graduate education vary from one school, and sometimes across fields in the same school
  • organization of faculty varies from place to place
  • how students will interact with graduate faculty will vary from place to place (e.g., may work with 1 person and committee immediately, or may rotate for a period before settling with a committee)
  • requirements vary widely (course work, languages, qualifying exams)

How do you select schools that might be best for you?

  1. Personal review of literature in the field, to give you an idea of where productive people are and what they're working on; NOTE: if you're interested in a certain individual's work, make sure (1) s/he is still there! (2) you know potential sabbatic schedule (3) s/he is still working on the same or similar topic (4) person is still taking students
  2. Use faculty members, graduate students, and research staff as resources - often your best source for "real" information
    • Faculty members and research staff can assess program's strengths and weaknesses; estimate how you would do there; know where best people or best programs are; know trends (i.e., is department moving away from an area of strength and creating another?); tell how other advisees have done there; if alumnus tell you what it was like for them at a particular school--but be sure to find out when they received degree, because things might have changed
    • Graduate students can tell you things they wish they had known or done during the application process; realities of graduate-school life; general strategies and suggestions
  3. Think about what you want in Program Emphasis and Structure
    • Is your area of interest represented in department?
    • How strong is it?
    • What other areas are represented (things you might be interested in minoring in?)
    • Is the focus of department narrow, one-sided, broad, or interdisciplinary?
    • Are there large, important areas that are missing altogether?
    • Is program flexible and geared to the individual student's goals and background? or is it heavily structured, with much course work, firm deadlines for exams, research purposes, etc.
    • Are there opportunities to get to know all of faculty and their research before deciding upon your research topic (rotation)
    • Are you accepted as a student of particular faculty member upon entrance? If so, is there an option to change if things don't work out?
    • Is there a lot of student/faculty interaction with department level, i.e., within a research group?
    • What kind of quality control is there along the way? Does someone notice when a student is not progressing as expected? (Often there is less quality control in first year if students are top-notch.)
  4. Quality of Faculty
    • Academic training--where and when?
    • Amount of research activity and productivity (publications).
    • Teaching reputation and effectiveness.
    • Do they have proven success as mentors?
    • Are they easy to get access to?
    • Do they inspire students?
  5. Reputation and Resources of Institution
    • What level of school is it? Keep in mind that prestigious institutions may have some weak graduate programs and a strong, well-known department may exist in a less prestigious school.
    • First-level school will have:
      • Faculty who are leaders in field.
      • Students of high quality upon entrance, and who are successful after leaving
      • A large amount of research money/grants
      • Excellent library and research facilities
    • Need to evaluate:
      • Libraries - (on campus and in area).
      • Research facilities and equipment.
      • Computing facilities, and who has access.
      • Amount of space devoted to grad student offices.
      • Variety of financial support options
      • Graduate-student housing and support services.
      • Other Factors
        • Is the program emphasis changing?
        • Department morale - (faculty and students).
        • Student satisfaction with program structure and opportunity.
        • Quality of life at institution and area (cultural activities - available, etc.)
      • Quality of Students
        • What undergraduate programs do the students come from?
        • What is the range of GRE scores of the entering class?
        • How much prior research experience or prior publications do students have?
        • Do students publish while in grad school program?
        • Do their theses get published? How quickly?
        • Are they getting jobs?
      • Suitability of Location
        • Is the school located in a part of country you could live in?
        • Is it located close to other research institutions?