The goal of the Gateway to Research Careers in Science: Biology (Gateway:Biology) program is to build students’ enthusisam for and experience with scientific discovery, and to prepare them for successful application to research-based graduate schools and careers in biology. A career in research offers an extremely rewarding and interesting life in every respect. The path to this great career is a strong undergraduate science education, often followed by graduate school, where students conduct research full-time as apprentice scientists, are paid excellent stipends, and are given full tuition for 5-7 years.
Students who will be invited to apply to Gateway:Biology are those who have been accepted into the Biology major and also belong to a group that is underrepresented in the biological sciences, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons with disabilities.
The core of the program is 3 to 4 years of collaborative research with the TCNJ faculty, along with associated mentoring and advising, funded travel to regional and national scientific conferences to present research, and programmatic activities to help students prepare for graduate school and science careers. Gateway Scholars receive an academic scholarship and academic credit for their research experiences from freshman year onward, and scholarship support in their Junior and Senior years, when they are engaged in research at the highest level. This sustained research on their own projects in collaboration with a faculty mentor allows Gateway Scholars to build a very strong skill set and demonstrate their ability and commitment to science in an unusually high level manner.
The Gateway:Biology program is unlike anything that can be found at most other colleges or universities. From the first semester at TCNJ, Gateway Scholars are integrated into the Department of Biology not only by taking Themes in Biology with the other first-year students, but also by joining a faculty-student lab for research shadowing, followed by several more “mini-rotations” through a diverse set of labs across 1-2 more semesters, ranging from cell and molecular biology, genetics, organismal biology, ecology, evolution, and more. In each lab, they meet other undergraduate Biology students and faculty members who are there to teach, advise, and help make the Department of Biology the students’ TCNJ home. At the end of the second or third semester, the Gateway Scholars choose one lab to join for three years of sustained research with a faculty mentor. Eventually, the students become fully collaborative members of their labs and peer mentors to younger students. The faculty-student research environment in Biology at TCNJ is lively and vigorous. We are 100% dedicated to undergraduate students, so students work directly in the labs with faculty, not grad students or post-docs. We have 19 well equipped faculty-student labs with over 90 undergraduate students conducting research each year. TCNJ also has a college-wide, eight-week, residential summer research program (MUSE) in which Gateway Scholars will participate for at least one summer.
Year by Year Details
The students are given a list of faculty-student research labs that are participating in Gateway:Biology, including some focused on the cellular/molecular/genetic side of biology and some focused on the organismal/environmental/population side of biology. They rank each lab by interest level, and then are assigned to 3 to 5 of the labs, including some from each area, for a series of 5 to 6 week long mini-rotations over the year. During the mini-rotations, the students spend about three hours per week observing and working with the students and faculty mentor in that lab, and earn a ¼ course unit credit each semester (graded Pass/Fail). The Gateway Scholars also take the normal course load of four courses per semester, including the introductory Biology course, Themes in Biology. We have found that this “freshman shadowing” experience in a research lab promotes success in regular course work by providing natural, supportive connections to the Biology faculty and more senior Biology students.
The students begin to conduct research in their labs for a ½ course unit credit per semester, spending about six hours per week. They are guided closely by the faculty mentor and more experienced students, gradually gaining more independence throughout the year, as they begin to develop their own research directions in collaboration with their mentors. An end-of-year research report is required. Research courses from this year forward are letter graded.
Rising-Sophomore, Rising-Junior, or Rising-Senior Summer
During one of these summers, the Gateway Scholars participate in TCNJ’s fun and rewarding eight-week, residential, paid research program, the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (http://fscollab.pages.tcnj.edu/muse/). They conduct research with their faculty mentors full-time (approx. 8 hr/day), and live on campus with the other MUSE students (typically 60 to 70 students from many disciplines at the College). The students receive a research stipend and on-campus housing. During one other summer we encourage the students to attend a similar, paid program at a research university somewhere in the nation. There are many of these programs, and we guide the students in identifying interesting programs and support them in the application process
The students advance to research for a full course unit credit each semester, spending 12 to 15 hours per week in the lab. They collaborate closely with their faculty mentors on projects for which the students develop significant ownership. They also start to act as peer mentors, helping to train younger students who join their labs. The program also funds expenses (travel, hotel, meals, registration) to attend a regional professional conference with the faculty mentor to present their collaborative research to an audience of scientists, typically in the form of a scientific poster. A research paper at the end of the year is required. During this year we start to guide the Gateway Scholars in their search for interesting graduate programs or jobs, and the program funds a GRE prep course.
The students receive a half to a full course unit credit each semester for research. It is expected that they are wrapping up data collection in the Fall semester and spending the Spring semester writing the final research paper, and potentially co-authoring a paper with the faculty mentor for submission to a scientific journal (depending on results). The program funds expenses (travel, hotel, meals, registration) to attend a national professional conference to present research. During this year the students are supported in their preparation of applications to graduate programs in biology or to research-based jobs.
- Mentoring workshops geared toward the students’ professional development as future biological scientists (with pizza!)
- Scientific talks by minority biological scientists from research universities
- Celebratory research symposium and banquet with the Gateway community and their families.
- Field trips to area research universities to see the graduate school environment, tour labs, and meet graduate students and faculty.
- Events at area high schools to inform students about Gateway:Biology and recruit new freshman cohorts of Gateway Scholars.
- Funding for a GRE prep course.
All eligible students will be contacted by the GRCS: Biology program soon after their acceptance to TCNJ. They will be invited to complete an on-line application form and will need to provide the name and contact information for a recommendation from someone with knowledge of the student’s interest in and experience with science. The GRCS: Biology program will then contact the recommender separately. These materials will be reviewed by the GRCS: Biology Committee, consisting of faculty members in the Department of Biology. Some applicants will then be selected for the next step – an interview with the committee, after which an offer to join the program will be made.
For more information, contact Dr. Janet Morrison, Chair of the Department of Biology and Director of Gateway to Research Careers in Science: Biology at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-771-2371 or 2356.