Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary

Lux et variety: Exploring your choices in academics

Yale offers a variety of studies of the diverse and complex life on earth. You can click on the names of these departments for more information:

  • The Yale College Program of Study (aka “Blue Book” or “Course Catalog”) - this the primary resource for finding classes and accessing requirements for your major remember to check the online system in addition to the hard copy, as courses can be added, removed, or changed subsequent to the book printing.
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies - Each department has a designated DUS or several in the case of larger departments. This is a faculty member who has taken on the responsibility of becoming familiar with the courses in order to assist undergraduates plan their coursework at Yale.
  • Your academic advisor - In many cases, the DUS will be your academic advisor, however, having another faculty member to get second opinions from is also a good idea. This person may also be your research advisor.
  • A Guide to the Biology Major - Annually, the Biology department (E&EB and MCDB) annualy publishes a guide to the biology major. You can obtain a copy from the department office or from the DUS.
  • Residential College Deans - These are your academic advisors at Yale, and if you need more advice, especially about confusion regarding the requirements, you should schedule a meeting. Remember to schedule the meeting well in advance, as Deans are always quite busy.
  • Upperclassmen / Freshman Counselors - For freshmen, even if your Freshman Couselor is not a science major, chances are one of them is, or at least knows another junior or senior with whom you can speak. Also, remember that any of the YUSBS Board are happy to answer emails.

A difficult question, and one that can be cause for much debate. Reading the course reviews can be helpful, although keep in mind that classes in the sciences often can change professors from year to year. The YUSBS offers an informal gathering during Shopping Week each semester where students can meet to discuss courses and ask for advice in planning their schedule. of courses.

Majoring in the sciences indeed has its unique challenges. The biology major has many more prerequisites than other majors, and the courses require hard work. Science majors also have a more linear series of courses than humanities, making scheduling often more rigid. The long walk up to Science Hill is for some a challenging aspect, and for others, a welcomed, relaxing walk during the day. Senior requirements are different for those seeking a BS degree, since research project is required instead of a formal senior essay. With those concerns in mind, most biological science majors would not want to be doing anything else, and find it a captivating field of study..

The answer to this question changes from year to year, and you should consult the table of this information in the YCPS (“Blue Book”). The choice to accelerate or not is a personal choice you should make in consultation with your academic advisor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the department that offers the course.

Finding a Research Lab: Getting your hands dirty or very clean

The following are key elements in starting research:

  • A lab to host your research
  • A Professor and/or Graduate/Post-Doctoral Student to help you get started
  • A source of funding to conduct your research
  • The time and energy to perform productive and complete research

The short answer: With a lot of effort, a probably some trial and error.
The long answer: There are dozens of laboratories at Yale that host undergraduate research projects every year, in addition to the hundreds around the United States and abroad that offer summer internships and fellowships. Finding a good lab is a balance between interesting research and a good working environment. The importance of this second part should not be undervalued, as a positive work situation often leads to better research. In addition to these two factors, you may want to check:

  • Size:The lab size suits you (too small and there may not be enough graduate students to help you, too large and you may feel lost in the shuffle).
  • Activity:The lab is currently in a state of good productivity and research (a good measure of this may be to check for recent publications from the lab, although that is certainly not the sole measure of production).
  • Stability:Make sure you take into account whether your research advisor is a full Professor, Assistant or Associate Professor, Visiting Professor, Lecturer, or Emeritus. Is your professor just getting started? Planning on leaving or retiring soon? Unsure how long he will be at Yale?
  • Grad Students:Be sure to meet the graduate students in the lab, since these are the people you will be most likely to work with on a daily basis.
  • Undergrads:Check if other undergraduates have worked in the lab, and if so, what their experience was.
  • Your Project:Make sure the lab is looking to help you develop your research. Working on an experiment tangent to or in conjunction with another project in the lab is a great way to start out, but make sure that you are getting a feel for the creative process, not simply doing someone else’s work. Think about what the project has the potential to teach you, and to what extent it will develop or tell a story rather than having you do the same thing again and again and again (which is a big part of science, don’t get me wrong - but in the good projects, there’s at least the prospect of moving on to Thing B after Thing A finally works).
  • Don’t forget about the Medical School, School of Forestry and Evironmental Studies, School of Public Health, Peabody Museum, Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, and other departments. All of these have active research labs that hire undergraduates.

The bad news: Like any other employer, professors like experience.
The good news: Everyone in research had to start somewhere.
Even for experienced undegraduates, starting research in a new lab can seem like starting over. Specialized methods and operational rhythms can vary greatly between labs, to the point that job training is generally required each time you start in a lab. This means that even if you’re new to research, you are not at a huge disadvantage. The important thing is to make your best effort and always keep learning.

There are many categories and methods of reserach, many of which overlap and exist as only vague categories, including:

  • TheoreticalThis can include modeling of a system using a computer, studying a miniaturized version of a system to develop a theory, or any other type of research that has no immediate concrete goal.
  • Field StudyPrimarily this involves collecting various data and samples from a field site.
  • Technology/MethodThis involves a practical approach to developing a particular technology or method for future research. The project itself has theoretical value, but its primary goal lies in developing the tools necessary for a later project.
  • Applied ResearchThis is research done for a specific practical aim. This includes projects sponsored by corporations seeking to develop a marketable technology.
  • Benchworkrefers to working at a laboratory bench, working on assays, genetic manipulations, or other tasks performed at the bench.
  • Tissue Culture/Organism CareCulturing a tissue for study or treatment, or raising/caring for organism for study or treatments.

This will be something you should discuss with you professor. For most summer positions, it is expected or delineated in the grant that you will spend around 40 hours a week (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) in the lab for around 10 weeks. During the school year, depending on the level of commitment and stipulations of research-for-credit, around 10-20 hours will be spent in the lab. For many types of biology research, you will be working in the time frame of your organism or experimental procedures, and thus your time frame may be unusual since it is dictated by these factors.

Getting a job in research: A few suggestions

E-mail is generally the best way to make initial contact. Keep in mind, however, that many professors are extemely busy and may not find time to answer emails immediately, nor schedule a meeting for possibly several weeks.

The most important factor here is keep it short. Professors running research labs are often busy, and will not want to (or simply will not) read a long email. Do not send completely identical e-mails to 20 labs. Your e-mail should reflect your understanding of what the lab does, and why you are interested in its research. You will definitely want to include:

  • Your Name, Major (if decided), and class year
  • Relevant Coursework in biology or the sciences
  • Past Research Experience (keep it brief, don’t write an abstract)
  • Funding you have available, or funding options you have researched
  • Times you are available for meetings during the week

Including a resume in your first email is a matter of personal preference. The professor you are contacting may not have time to read it, so definitely do not rely on it as the only source of the important information described above in Question [C2]. Attaching it to the e-mail as an attachment and inviting your professor to read in the e-mail can’t hurt though. That being said, You should have a resume prepared and you should bring it to the interview. Having a paper copy of your resume is always a good practice when going to an interview.

The process of writing good resumes is much discussed on the internet, and there are a variety of resources available. Be sure to get information from a reliable source. Also, your word processing program (Microsoft Word, Wordperfect, etc.) may have tools to help you. Other recommended sources of help on this are Undergraduate Career Services or your College Writing Tutor.

Dressing up a bit never hurts, but be sure to look neat. Avoid wearing shorts or sandals in a biochemical lab, as this is generally unsafe clothing in the lab. Remember to bring a copy of your resume, if you have prepared one. Be enthusiastic and interested. Few researchers dislike talking about their research, so be prepared for a sometimes lengthy explanations of the research in the lab. Leave enough time so that you are not rushing the meeting. Ask questions, since the business of science is asking questions. This is a great way to show your interest and to engage in the conversation rather than only listening passively to the professor’s explanation. Asking a good question is often more impressive on a professor than any achievement you present.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes labs simply do not have the time or resources to help undergraduates get started. The lab may have a lot of graduate students leaving, and are taking on new graduate students. The lab may also already be hosting a few undergraduates already. Generally, your professor will give you a reason if he denies your request.

How to not eat Ramen noodles all summer: Financing your Research

Yale provides many funding opportunities for summer funding. These can be found at the Yale Grants and Fellowships site. In addition, you may refer to our page on Grants and Fellowships for other resources. You Residential College (or other Colleges) may also have grants that can support your summer research.

Living costs in the New Haven are on the higher end of the national range. The Perspectives on Science program provides $3400 for the summer, and this amount has been found to be adequate to support living in New Haven for the 10 weeks required for the program. Most grants for the summer are around the $3000-4000 range.

Some labs may have the resources to pay you during the school year. Yale does not offer any fellowship programs during the school year, since the summer grants are designed to meet the necessity of living costs in New Haven for the summer. Keep in mind that working the lab is primarily a learning experience, and the focus should not be on the money.

There are a variety of summer sublets available usually. Either from students leaving New Haven for the summer, or students moving away permanently and needing someone to finish their lease. Yale Station and Craigslist are two useful resources for locating sublets. The best source of summer sublet information is the multitude of flyers advertising summer housing that populate the bulletin boards around campus in the early spring.

Unpaid internships are often a great way to gain experience at companies and in labs. Some who have taken these unpaid positions, however, felt they were not taken seriously by the company or lab since they were not paid. Simply put, if you are getting paid, you are expected to work, but if not, sometimes the expectations are lower and you may not feel you are getting the real experience or are being worked as hard as you should. Use your own judgement, but keep this in mind.

A Brief Explanation of "The Lab"

Labs can vary depending on what the type of research is, but generally they include the following job roles:

  • Principal Invesitgator (PI)- The Professor in charge of the lab.
  • Lab Manager- A student or post-graduate hired professional that manages the business of the lab, coordinating supplies and assisting with larger projects.
  • Post-doctoral Students (Post-docs)- Research students who have completed their PhD program, but are continuing research before beginning their own lab or taking teaching positions.
  • Graduate Students- Students studying for a Master’s or Doctoral Degree.
  • Lab Technicians- Non-student paid employees of the lab hired to perform general lab tasks or assist in technical lab maintenence.
  • Maintenance Staff- Staff hired by the university or company to keep the lab clean and dispose of waste.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. If you work in a biochemical lab with toxic materials and glassware, be sure not to wear shorts or especially sandals. Some labs also require lab coats to be worn. If you are working on a field study, ask for a list of recommendations for proper gear and equipment.
  • Be conscious of where you leave food and drink. You don’t want your food to become contaminated. Labs that deal with radioactive materials (this includes biological tracer isotopes) or severe biological contaminants or toxins have regular visits from inspectors, sometimes without warning. Any foods or drinks found in these designated hazardous materials areas are a serious violation that may cost your lab a substaintial penalty. As an undergraduate, you especially do not want to the cause of this type of problem.
  • Have good appliance habits! This cannot be emphasized enough. Remember that you share space in freezers, incubators, centrifuges, autoclave machines, and other large equipment with others in your lab, and possibly the entire building or department. Forgetting to close freezer or incubator doors can put other researchers’ projects in serious jeopardy. Autoclave machines, if not properly set and secured, can in some cases explode, causing serious damage. It is generally advisable to make a paper or mental list of all equipment in the lab you have used during the day and to check each one before you leave the building.
  • Try to be neat and organized. As an undergraduate, you may be sharing bench space with other researchers or undergraduates, and certainly sharing equipment with others. Don’t leave a mess or move things around where others cannot locate them.

Remember, the lab is a group of coworkers who work long hours together in a small environment. Generally, the lab will have social gatherings, attend conferences and lectures, and take lunch breaks together. Take advantage of all these opportunities to get to know your fellow researchers.

Be honest. Science searches for the truth, and makes mistakes frequently. Don’t try to cover it up, instead speak to your graduate student or professor about the problem. It can be very difficult and extremely embarrassing, but “fudging” things is the near cousin of forging results, and publishing false data. If you have caused a potentially dangerous situation, by spilling a toxic substance or operating machinery improperly, do not walk away from it. Also keep in mind that your research may be published someday and contribute to the greater body of scientific knowledge and possibly affect people’s lives.

The Bottom Line: Don’t let your fear of “failure” or embarrassment in the short term get blown out of proportion and affect your research project and personal credibility in the long term. Your embarrassment will fade, but causing a major disruption or getting caught with innacurate research will not be so easy to forget.

Looking Ahead: Life after Yale

A short list of possible career or post-graduation ideas includes:

  • Graduate School in a Doctoral (PhD) or Masters (MA/MS) program
  • Medical School, Nursing School, Veternary School, or an MD/PhD program
  • Position in a Private Biotechnology Corporation
  • Consulting for a firm that deals with scientific research or environmental protection
  • Business or Law School
  • Working for an Environmental Advocacy Group or Political Action Committee
  • Studying for teaching certification for Primary or Secondary education
  • Working for a government agency such as the EPA, Park Service, Forest Commission, etc.

Yale Undergraduate Career Services has information regarding a variety of career paths and prerequisite courses. In addition to online resources, they provide seminars and Q&A sessions at the start of each semester and career counselors are available to meet by appointment.