Research Groups

 

Why do universities like Western Michigan have so many research laboratories?

 

What does research have to do with teaching? The answer to these questions can be a little multi-dimensional, but one answer is that while students go to the classroom to get questions answered, professors--at least those in the sciences--go to the laboratory to ask questions...usually entirely new questions.

 

Questions motivate all of us, all the time, everyday. Remember an early scene from the film “The Matrix”:
Trinity : … when he found me, he told me I wasn't really looking for him, I was looking for an answer. It's the question that drives us... It's the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
Neo : What is the Matrix?
Trinity : The answer is out there…it's looking for you—and it will find you—if you want it to.

 

A research laboratory is not just a place, it is a group of people that work on answering questions. Hence, a  “research group” is a bunch of similar minded individuals that are attempting to answer a related collection of questions. In the classroom you learn things that might have been known for months or years or centuries; but they are questions that have already been answered. In the laboratory, when you learn something there, you might be the first person to ever figure out a particular answer. It is great fun, a great adventure.

 

The research laboratory is the fundamental unit of research in our country, actually, in the entire world. Scientists form a large international community and our collaborations extend around the globe. A country’s research infrastructure really matters and it because of this importance much of our work is funded by various Federal Agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Working in such a laboratory is an invaluable experience for any student: see how science is accomplished! Accomplish some themselves!

 

There are some great laboratories here at Western Michigan University; get involved!

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Undergraduates

If you are doing well in your course work (maintaining an A or BA in 1500 & 2500) and you are willing to invest 8 to 12 hours/week in the laboratory, you might start looking for an interesting research group. Most students attend group meetings and learn techniques for a semester. By the second semester, the lab becomes their “at school” home as they have started on a small research project of their own or with another undergraduate or a grad student; this can go on until graduation. Some students work through the summer, a time when they can devote a good amount of time to research. At the end of the final semester students usually turn in a research thesis that describes their work in the laboratory. If one worries about such things, It should not be overlooked that this experience is the best basis for a meaningful letter of recommendation.

 

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Graduate students

We have both Master and PhD programs in the Biological Sciences at Western Michigan University. Both programs strive to introduce students to a strong combination of teaching training and research accomplishment. In both programs there are funding possiblities for students that have full time status, albeit they can be quite competitive in some years.

If you are thinking of applying to graduate studies at WMU, first, take your GREs, as completing those seem to be a rate limiting step for many students. Then apply through our Biological Sciences Dept here. When you apply, it is important to establish e-mail contact with one of the professors and discuss a rationale for why you would fit into their research group; we have so many applications that it is possible to overlook students that do not seem to have a possible mentor or home laboratory.

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Work Study Lab Helpers

We often hire students to help in the laboratory. With no experience, the job entails fish care on a daily basis and helping to organize and clean lab glassware. The work week is normally in the 10 to 15 hours range when school is in session; 20 to 30 hours in the summer.  With some laboratory experience, advanced students may assist in experiments to identify particular genotypes of the animals, and more advanced students might assist with histology. Applicants must have Federal Work Study (FWS) funding to apply. (If you are eligible, FWS would be part of your financial aid package. You may look up your award status on GoWMU or check with Bronco Express.)