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Criteria to identify strong science programs for biochem, immunology, and/or genetics?

CheeringsectionCheeringsection Registered User Posts: 2,257 Senior Member
I am not a big believer in rankings but even if I were they seem to be for grad programs rather than undergrad. I know to look for amount of science funding received and grad school placement but not what specific sources of that information are most reliable. Any and all suggestions are welcome for criteria and data sources. TIA!
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Replies to: Criteria to identify strong science programs for biochem, immunology, and/or genetics?

  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,497 Senior Member
    Yes, department rankings ... and certainly any rankings for life science subfields like immunology ... generally focus on graduate programs. For undergraduate programs, as far as I can tell, there really aren't any 100% reliable, uncontroversial metrics that cannot possibly be confounded by factors that have little to do with academic program quality.

    On the NSF/WebCASPAR site, you can search for colleges that educate the greatest number of PhD life scientists. By absolute numbers (not adjusted for school or program size) the top colleges tend to be either very large, very selective, or both. Examples: Berkeley, Cornell, Michigan, Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, UChicago, Johns Hopkins.
    Normalized by institution size, some of the top colleges for alumni-earned life science PhDs are listed on the following site: http://www.thecollegesolution.com/the-colleges-where-phds-get-their-start/
    I'm not aware of any similar ranking normalized by life-science program size; with some effort you could sort that out from WebCASPAR and IPEDS data.

    Most students are constrained by their qualifications and by what their parents can afford.
    Your own state flagship may be a good baseline for quality and cost.
  • ScipioScipio Registered User Posts: 8,753 Senior Member
    You can go to grad school in Immunology, but it seldom if ever exists as an undergrad department. It's often taught at the undergrad level in a department of Microbiology. So I'd say look for schools that have a Micro major and strong Immunology grad program.

    All three of these majors usually mostly prepare you for grad school or medical,dental,or veterinary schools rather than for employment at the bachelors level as a biochemist, immunologist, or geneticist.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 73,793 Senior Member
    Perhaps investigate whether the biology department at the school offers upper level courses in the relevant topics at reasonable frequency. Biology is a very broad field, but some biology departments may have better or worse coverage of a particular subarea than others.
  • CheeringsectionCheeringsection Registered User Posts: 2,257 Senior Member
    Thanks for all the info thus far! I will add that if anyone has a DC studying and/or working in one of these areas I would love to hear what schools were considered and what stood out about the one(s) that was chosen.
  • NJWrestlingmomNJWrestlingmom Registered User Posts: 830 Member
    I don't know specific, but my niece studied undergrad science at Cornell, went on to grad school at Michigan State (funded). Currently works doing DNA/genetics work for the FBI.
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 3,097 Senior Member
    The much cited "Table 4" of this NSF site lists the 50 top PhD producers normalized by size of original baccalaureate college (by number of STEM students would have been even better, but, you can't have everything.):

    https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13323/
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,497 Senior Member
    Perhaps investigate whether the biology department at the school offers upper level courses in the relevant topics at reasonable frequency.

    That would be a good thing to do once you've identified a reasonable number of possibilities (~20, maybe).
    To do that, you might want to use a college search engine to filter by stats, cost, location, size, etc.
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 3,097 Senior Member
    ^College Navigator, the Dept. of Education search tool is pretty handy:
    https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  • CheeringsectionCheeringsection Registered User Posts: 2,257 Senior Member
    edited July 2018
    Thank you @circuitrider and @tk21769 for your responses. I can see what others have said about “large and selective” being the norm. DD20 will have1-2 of those on her list and is on a path towards having the qualifications. As we fill out the list, I am also hoping to find mid size, match schools as well. She prefers outside the NE for now, so we are hoping to find some mid-Atlantic, Mid-western, or Southern schools to explore. The left coast is probably just too far and too expensive for undergrad. We do have access to Naviance so I have been wandering uses those search engines but now I know more about what to do beyond confirming a biochem major and/or grad program exists. Thanks again.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,497 Senior Member
    Consider:
    Columbia University
    Cornell University
    Johns Hopkins
    Vanderbilt
    Duke
    UPenn
    Wake Forest
    URochester
    Case Western
    George Washington
    Georgetown
    UMBC

    These schools are mid-sized (more or less) and located in the mid-Atlantic (incl. NY), Midwest, or South.
    They rank #3 - #120 in the NRC Research rankings for Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology
    (column 3 in: https://www.chronicle.com/article/NRC-Rankings-Overview-/124707). This ranking is "derived from faculty publications, citation rates, grants, and awards."
    The first 6, and Georgetown (for arts and sciences), would be reaches for nearly all applicants.

    You also may want to consider Brandeis (#5 in the same ranking) even though it's in New England.
    If you wanted to include larger schools, or LACs, many other possibilities would open up.
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 3,097 Senior Member
    ^Wesleyan is a fairly large LAC that, if normalized per number of STEM students, would likely land near the top of the "Table 4" baccalaureate origins of Ph.D students mentioned in post#6. And, it has a fairly deep bench (for an LAC) when it comes to faculty researchers who specialize in genomics:
    http://www.wesleyan.edu/bio/researchareas/genomics.html
  • CheeringsectionCheeringsection Registered User Posts: 2,257 Senior Member
    Excellent essay on LACS @tk21769! My DD could enjoy the learning environment of a LAC but a larger one would be best. We visited a campus for 800 students which she deemed way too small. She needs much more energy on campus and much prefers suburban or urban over rural. However our state flagship of >50K students is way too big.
  • choguy1choguy1 Registered User Posts: 66 Junior Member
    @Cheeringsection My wife and I have been in bio. research since undergrad and into our professional careers. My wife has a PhD in cell and molecular bio but we both graduated with a BS in biotechnology. I would suggest any research university (large or small) but especially those with an associated medical school. There will typically be opportunities for research at the undergrad level at such schools. Personally, I would stay away from liberal arts schools that may produce a lot of PhDs but those students tend to go on to teach at other small (but perhaps prestigious) schools. They typically don't have large industry or government-funded research programs. Every school mentioned by @tk21769 has its own medical school. This would also mean that many state flagships have excellent undergrad bio/biomedical undergrad programs.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 10,497 Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    Every school mentioned by @tk21769 has its own medical school. This would also mean that many state flagships have excellent undergrad bio/biomedical undergrad programs.

    An exception: UMBC doesn't exactly have its own med school. The University of Maryland system does have one, but it's in Baltimore (not co-located with the suburban UMBC campus).

    Not all the other institutions listed in that entire NRC ranking have medical schools. For example, Caltech (#1) doesn't. Brandeis (#5) also does not. Both these schools are small; Caltech in particular is smaller than many LACs. Most of the others do have medical schools. Whether that should be an essential feature of your chosen institution is something to think about.

    LACs seem to have educated many (or maybe their fair share of) prominent physicians and life scientists.
    For example, Jeffrey Hall, 2017 Nobel laureate in physiology/medicine, is an Amherst College alumnus.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Amherst_College_people#Nobel_Prize_winners
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Swarthmore_College_people#Natural_science,_medicine,_and_engineering
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wesleyan_University_people#Medicine
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Williams_College_people#Medicine
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Doudna
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary-Claire_King
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Clarke
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Knoepfler

    Whether life science majors at LACs or large research universities are more likely to have such successful careers, I don't know. I would think that for many of them, having a med school or hospital system nearby is indeed an advantage. For others, having small classes or closely mentored projects may be more important.
  • choguy1choguy1 Registered User Posts: 66 Junior Member
    @tk21769 My comments on LACs were not an absolute and I am sure there are plenty of top MD/PhDs from LACs. I was just giving my opinion based on decades in the biopharmaceutical industry and my wife's experience in academia. I still believe that you will enhance your chances for success down the road in med. school or life science research if you attend a research university or university with a medical school. Of course, there are many paths to success and it's important to find the correct one for you. Good luck @Cheeringsection !
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