Training the Next Brains

Interdisciplinary options and hands-on research prepare Ithaca’s student-scientists well.     By Doug McInnis

Future scientists have ample options when it comes to choosing a place to earn their degree. They include big research universities with famous faculties and loads of equipment as well as well-equipped technical schools that focus on science and little else. Why, then, choose Ithaca?

 “The thing that screams out is the personal attention we give our students,” says Leann Kanda, assistant professor of biology. “We get to know them in the classroom and in the research lab.”

 Andy Smith, associate professor of biology, has three to seven students working in his lab at any given time. “They’re probably doing the bulk of the experiments,” says Smith.

And, the equipment isn’t reserved for faculty only. “If we have a big piece of machinery,” adds Jean Hardwick, assistant professor of biology, “everybody uses it.”

When students make significant contributions to faculty research, they also get part of the credit. In the past five years, 27 IC undergraduates have co-authored scientific papers published by members of the biology department, says Hardwick. In the same time span, undergraduates have given 33 regional and national research presentations.

Ithaca’s liberal arts requirements also help train future scientists. “The liberal arts build the analytic mind,” says Kanda, who had dual undergraduate majors in biology and religion.

“We’re teaching our students to deal with complicated problems, and we want them to have as many tools as they can to think about them,” adds Smith, who studied literature along with science as an undergraduate. “The liberal arts train your brain to be flexible and to make connections other people might not see. A literature course may prove useful in ways we don’t understand to make the brain more adaptable.”

Ithaca wants its science students to get into highly regarded graduate and medical schools. By that standard, the College does very well. In recent years, Ithaca’s biology students have been accepted at Duke University School of Medicine and graduate programs at Yale, University of Wisconsin, University of Illinois, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Washington University at St. Louis, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins.