Bio research at Duke

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Discus: Individual Schools: US News Top 25: Duke University: 2004 Archive: Bio research at Duke
By Rsi03er (Rsi03er) on Saturday, June 19, 2004 - 02:15 pm: Edit

Hi guys,

I have heard that Duke has a great undergraduate programme in biology. I'm extremely interested in doing research, especially in cell and molecular biology. How conducive is the environment at Duke for undergrad research? I am also really keen on going "hardcore" into research in Duke, meaning that I would like to do as much research as possible. What opportunities are there in Duke that are given to undergrads? What is the quality of the labs, facilities, mentorship, especially in bio? Is Duke the most conducive place for doing bio research an getting a good undergrad education in bio?


By Theguac (Theguac) on Saturday, June 19, 2004 - 04:02 pm: Edit

Duke is one of those handful of universities that emphasizes undergraduate research (MIT being the other prominent one). It is hard NOT to find someone doing some kind of research, be it in history or in cell biology. You will find that Duke offers dozens of fully-paid fellowships to its students for the summer to do research.

Now, while the enviornment at Duke is research-oriented, it does not mean everyone is "hardcore" because many science majors have no time to spend many hours in a lab watching a reaction occur. I am a student in the biomedical engineering department and a researcher in the neuroanesthesiology department and I found myself spending VERY late-nights catching up on work that I had to push aside to finish some of my research. Even the weekends are filled with work and so, it becomes hard to find a lot of extra time.

I don't foresee any problems with you finding research openings. The opportunities at Duke are boundless, and I know a friend who is now researching at the National Institutes of Health, as his mentor at Duke had some connections to the prestigious organization. I am also working in a lab this summer at UCLA. You will find that the Duke name carries a lot of weight in finding research openings and internships. Every scientist knows of Duke and its accomplishments in medicine and as such, they know your preparation at the university will be more than enough.

Also, compared to many other universities across the country, Duke is more open to allowing its undergraduate students to become published and write their OWN papers. Duke mentors are not haughty like some I have seen at some other top 10 universities; therefore, they expect a lot out of you but they're also not impatient and are willing to work with you until you are able to work independently.

As for the facilities, they're top-notch and not cramped, especially with the completion of CIEMAS, the largest research building at a university in America. Bio research is also state-of-the-art, but I would first take a class in molecular biology to see if you're REALLY interested in it. I'm personally also interested in the nanotechnology research that will be taking place in CIEMAS.

Duke is a very good institution for bio education and the research associated with it; however, it is not the ONLY university that is excellent at combining both. MIT is also on the same level and its mentors are helpful like Duke's. I would try Berkeley too, although Berkeley does not have the resources to support many student researchers. Almost any top 10 school will give you what you need in terms of excellent education and opportunities with research. Oh yeah, Northwestern is also good with that too.

Good luck!

By Rsi03er (Rsi03er) on Saturday, June 19, 2004 - 11:56 pm: Edit

How do you find an internship at duke? Is it possible to already find one when you're a freshman? If so, when is the earliest time you can find one? Do you just need to approach your prospective mentors and ask them if they would be willing to take you in? Also, from your experience, how are you mentors/collegues at the lab like? Do they give you a lot of freedom,besides engaging you in your projects? (eg. giving you the keys to the lab, lol)

Also, in terms of academics for bio, is it very competitive/demanding? What are some of the less fine points about the bio programme/research on the whole? Thanks again-- sorry for bombarding you with so many questions =)

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 12:26 am: Edit

To get a research job, you email your prospective mentor and ask him for a position. If he has availability, then he interviews you and if he finds you fit, he hires you. It's very simple =).

Duke encourages its students to begin researching sophomore year, but many begin their freshman year; my friends and I did and we're now published.

Yes, my mentors gave me a key to every room in the lab, including their offices. Also, they gave me a key card that opens the entire building to me. They are smart enough to figure that Duke students are very intelligent and responsible, so they trust us with more freedom.

Duke is competitive in any major; bio is more competitive than a lot of majors though and it is very demanding, since the university emphasizes theory and practice rather than memorization. As for your last question, I would ask a bio major for the department's weaknesses. I haven't heard any complaints so I'm assuming the academics are solid and the professors are wonderful. My bio friends were complaining about the amount of work and the difficulty of the labs and their practicals but nothing about its weaknesses. Sorry :(.

If med school acceptance rates count for anything, then Duke has a great and respected bio department, since almost all bio students get into a med school.

By Rsi03er (Rsi03er) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 12:28 am: Edit

Also, how does duke compare to like MIT, Harvard or Stanford? What are the nice things about studying at duke compared to the other top universities? =)

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:07 am: Edit

I wouldn't say Duke is ranked with MIT, Harvard, or Stanford, although they are Duke's peer institutions.

Since Duke is a relatively new university, it still has a ways to go before it can be grouped with those three. However, for such a young institution, it has done VERY well, as it is only a notch below those three in academics and even surpasses them in some departments. Our grad school placement competes with them and we do just as well placing students into top professional schools such as Duke, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

A factor that has hindered Duke's progression is its location in the South, which is a region in America that is usually considered backwards and undesirable (this perception is slowly fading, especially for North Carolina). So, all-in-all, Duke is a GREAT university that is racing to become one of the top 5 universities in the nation. It is in the top 10 right now (probably #7 or #8), but once its name continues to spread across the world and its endowment increases, then it will join the ranks of HYPSM.

What made me decide Duke rather than Stanford and Harvard is that the professors really care about you. The school is more interested in you learning than in its prestige; it doesn't need a "Harvard" name to make it feel good (although that name is slowly coming to fruition). The atmosphere is also a lot nicer since students are always willing to help you even in competitive classes. The location sucks but there are always trade-offs to a top-notch education. And even though we may be a notch below Harvard, Stanford, and MIT, our students are always placed in the same category during graduate school admissions. It also depends on what major you're wanting and the relative excellence of the program offerings in that institution. For me, Duke's biomedical engineering department made me deny the other great schools because none of them had a respectable one.

Ultimately, it's where you feel most comfortable. If you're at Duke, you're set as long as you do well. You will receive an Ivy-league education with students that are AMAZING. When you're in the level of prestige that Duke is in, it really doesn't matter much where you came from but what you did with your time there and how you stood out among the other 6000 equally talented, equally intelligent, equally known students.

(And if name is still a factor to you, I still receive "wow"'s when I tell people I go to Duke.)

By Sheri04 (Sheri04) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:13 am: Edit

Theguac -

did you know who you wanted your mentor to be before you arrived on campus? if you didn't know a mentor from before, how did you choose among the many labs and prospective mentors of the basic sci departments of the med school and the sci depts?

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:26 am: Edit

I was in the Exploring the Mind FOCUS and I told my neurobiology professor my interests and he listed some researchers who have my same interests. Turns out my current mentor is an MD and a professor at the medical school.

Your professors are always willing to help you find people; don't hesistate to ask them. After all, they get paid enough for their jobs =).

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:32 am: Edit

And also, to expand upon my other post about the uniqueness of Duke, the university stresses interdisciplinary education, meaning that many different departments collaborate for projects, studies, etc. That way, students get an in-depth taste of EVERYTHING. Just look at CIEMAS and you'll understand. The interdisciplanary atmosphere seen at Duke is uncommon among its peer institutions.

The medical center is also more than willing to allow its own undergraduates to work there as well, unlike UCLA's and at times, Stanford's. But unfortunately, our medical center is still kind of arrogant and likes to be disassociated from the university in many matters--this is common at almost all university medical centers however.

By Sheri04 (Sheri04) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:41 am: Edit

theguac -

you began during your freshman year? how many hours a week did you work? looking back, do you think it was a good decision to do that, as opposed to spending the time on coursework or other activities?

one of my concerns about doing research (even though i am very interested in it) is that i won't be able to do productive research in the lab and also keep up with coursework. this is my third summer at the NIH and I work full time, so it's hard for me to imagine working for just two or three hours a day and still getting things accomplished.

thanks for your helpful comments. sorry... so many questions!

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:59 am: Edit

During the school year, I worked around 10 hours a week. I stayed two weeks after finals ended to finish the research and I spent 30-40 hours a week then.

I think it was a VERY good decision to start my research freshman year because although I had to stay up late on some nights to finish up work (by late, I mean 5 or 6--average was probably at 3 or 4), I am now published, which is exellent to put on resumes and medical school applications. Also, when I was applying for research internships this summer at UCLA, it was A LOT easier to get a position with my experience.

And don't worry, even though you will spend most of your time doing your homework and going to class, you'll still get stuff accomplished in the lab--it'll just go slower than what you are used to.

I have a question for you though: how did you land a job at the NIH? I really want to start there next summer. Could you give me some pointers? I know my mentor has some connections, but I'm curious to know how a high-school student did it. Maybe you could hook me up for next summer as well...=)

By Sheri04 (Sheri04) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 02:41 am: Edit


when i was in 10th grade, my anatomy and physiology teacher gave me a informational handout for a program run by the american heart association. i attended several lectures on saturday mornings and then i took at test. the 10 top scorers were given internships at NIH and the Uniformed Health Sciences University (i think that's what it's called... it's army-affiliated. in bethesda, md). I was placed in a lab at the NIH. I was very fortunate to be placed in a lab that I like. The people are very friendly and helpful. I've been returning to the same lab since.

I didn't (and still probably don't) know what my area of interest is. What I mean is, I am interested in the research that our lab focuses on, but I might have also been happy in another lab. It's hard to say when I haven't been exposed to so many areas of research. I often wonder how other people with limited experience know what they are truly interested in.

There is a page where students apply for internships on the NIH website:

click on 'summer internship program in biomedical research'.

One thing I would suggest is, talk to your current mentor and others that you know who do research. they may be able to refer you to someone that they know, put in a good word for you, etc, which would make getting a spot easier

By Sheri04 (Sheri04) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 02:44 am: Edit


whoops... you already mentioned the mentor connection idea in your post. sorry! i guess that's what happens when i'm up so late and my concentration levels are low

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 03:08 am: Edit

Wow, I did not know the NIH has a research facility in the Research Triangle. That's right next to Duke. That means I can do research there AND do summer school! Cool, cool. The benefits of going to school in the City of Medicine =).

By Rsi03er (Rsi03er) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 04:10 am: Edit

Thanks for all the info! Also, do you have to deal with things like funding when you do your research, or is it all handled by your mentor? In terms of finding a mentor, especially in the freshman year, is it very competitive? Are there many other students who will also be "competing" with you to get a mentorship as well?

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 01:28 pm: Edit

The mentor deals with funding, and the search for a mentor isn't TOO competitive since there are a TON of research opportunities. You will not only be competing with other freshmen but also with the upperclassmen who are trying to find research. So it can become a little competitive. It all depends on the mentor and how much he likes you.

By Ay_Caramba (Ay_Caramba) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 09:56 pm: Edit

I'm going to duke in the fall and I'm premed but I don't plan on being a biology major...will that hinder my chances of getting a bio-related research spot? (I do plan to minor in bio if that makes a difference)

By Theguac (Theguac) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 11:06 pm: Edit

It depends on how much you know of the subject. If you don't know anything about it and you are trying to get a research position in that particular subject, then yes, it will hinder your chances. Mentors are busy with their own research and simply do not have the time to teach you all they know just to do a project correctly. They will tell you to take classes and then to come back.

They will at most spend about 45 minutes with you giving you an introduction. The rest they expect you to know and to grasp and to understand AND to learn by yourself via journals, libraries, or classes. They like you to take the initiative and use Duke's resources so that you are not led through life by someone else. Independence =).

By Sheri04 (Sheri04) on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 09:53 am: Edit

Theguac- did you start doing research first or second semester freshman year?

i was thinking that it would be better for me to start second semester, after seeing how much free time i have outside of class and other extracurricular activities

By Theguac (Theguac) on Friday, June 25, 2004 - 12:47 pm: Edit

I started in October. I think your reasoning in starting second semester is smart and I would advise that you do do this. However, keep in mind that mentors do understand that you are also a full-time student, so whenever you have a lot of work, exams, or activities, they will cut you some slack. Their first priority is to get you through Duke with a high GPA; research comes after.

You will hear this from your mentors time and time again whenever they can sense that you're sleep-deprived (but that's everyday) or you're stressed because of an impending exam. One time, I had 4 midterms the same week and I was stressing out when I came into the lab. My public policy exam, worth 30% of my grade, was in 2 hours and I simply could not focus. So, my other mentor told me to go to the library and study and not to worry about the research. She wanted me to do well in school and that was her first priority. During reading period and final exams week, you will also be told to go to the library and study. So don't worry, mentors are very understanding and approachable should you have any problems (Well at least mine were and are).

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