Prof. Lawrence Scott (Chemistry) works with juniors Christopher Pablow, middle, and Jonathan Rose, participants in the Undergraduate Faculty Research Fellows program. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Measuring One Program's Profound Impact
Entering second decade, Undergrad Research Fellows program has impressive track record
By Mark Sullivan
For a decade now, the Undergraduate Faculty Research Fellows Program at Boston College has given talented underclassmen the chance to work side-by-side with faculty on cutting-edge research.
BC has put more than $2.3 million toward more than 1,900 student fellowships since beginning the program 10 years ago, in an effort to draw students more fully into the intellectual life of the University and to boost the overall profile of research on campus.
"This program has had a tremendous impact, underscoring that undergraduates can in fact do higher-level work, the equivalent of that done by graduate students," said Dean for Enrollment Management Robert Lay.
With the program now beginning its second decade, former undergraduate research fellows recently reflected on how the experience had influenced their subsequent careers. They said the impact had been profound.
John Beierle '03, a doctoral student in chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., spent a Fulbright year in Strasbourg, France, pursuing nanotechnology research after having been an undergraduate fellow in the lab of Vanderslice Professor of Chemistry T. Ross Kelly.
"It was with Prof. Kelly's help and guidance that I discovered all that science really had to offer," he said.
"I began my career as a synthetic organic chemist in Prof. Kelly's Lab. He helped me in so many ways, including giving me my first start in a real lab, choosing future subjects to study, and where to attend graduate school. To this day I know I can still call him when I need career advice.
"My experience as an undergraduate researcher at Boston College did more than just shape my career. It introduced me to people and possibilities that are unattainable at any other level in the academic world."
Michael Best '97, a former undergraduate fellow in the lab of Prof. Lawrence Scott (Chemistry), earned a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Texas, and currently is a post-doctoral fellow at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. This summer he joins the faculty of the University of Tennessee as an assistant professor of chemistry.
At BC, his work with Scott entailed the synthesis of derivatives of the recently discovered buckminsterfullerene molecule, and brought him in contact with professors Scott Miller and Marc Snapper, among other researchers in organic chemistry.
"My undergraduate research was absolutely essential for developing my career into what it is today," Best said. "Performing research in the lab at BC was what really got me excited about going into the field of organic chemistry.
"Dr. Scott had an amazing impact on my life when I was an undergraduate through his enthusiasm for the work and his caring for his students. This inspired me to become an academic chemist so that I, too, could inspire young people and get them excited about the field of chemistry.
"My contacts in the Chemistry Department are still assisting me. I keep up with multiple faculty members, and they have recently greatly assisted in my academic search by writing letters on my behalf, generously answering any of my questions on the process and offering useful advice. I look forward to continuing to see them at conferences to further discuss science and teaching.
"Overall my research position at BC was instrumental in providing hands-on experience in chemistry, helping me realize how much I enjoyed chemical research, providing multiple role models for succeeding in academia, preparing me for graduate school and life, and generating lifelong contacts for assistance and advice."
Another protege of Scott, Talley Whang '03, a first-year medical student at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, worked for a year after college as a research associate at Abbott Labs. At BC, her research with Scott involved the synthesis of novel polycyclic hydrocarbon compounds, or compounds made of just carbon and hydrogen molecules.
"My research experience gave me an edge when I applied to medical schools," she said. "It helped my application stand out along the thousands that each school received.
"But more than that, I met an incredible mentor - Dr. Scott - and I learned the discipline and work ethic that come with bench research. My experience at BC would not have been as complete and fulfilling as it was had I not done research with Dr. Scott."
Rodrigo Ortiz Meoz '03, a second-year graduate student in the program in molecular biophysics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was an undergraduate research fellow in the lab of Asst. Prof. Shana O. Kelley (Chemistry), and has no hesitation in crediting her for his subsequent success.
"One thing about my experience with Shana that I think has really helped me along in graduate school," he said, "is that even though I was an undergrad, I was treated very much like a graduate student, with all the benefits, and responsibilities, that come with the title.
"I can honestly say that if it weren't for Shana, I would not be doing what I am doing today. She gave me a chance in her lab when she had no obligation to, and while I am grateful for all the science I learned, I am more grateful for the guidance she provided me during my years at BC."
See The Undergraduate Faculty Research Fellows Program web site.