Carnegie Mellon University
October 30, 2017

Computational Biology Guarantees Research Experience for Undergrads

By Byron Spice

Andreas Pfenning and students read from book

Doing undergraduate research for credit has long been an option exercised at Carnegie Mellon and other universities, but the Computational Biology Department has gone a step further and is guaranteeing that all students in its new undergraduate degree program will be able to pursue a semester-long research experience should they wish to.

“Our faculty want to make it a central feature of our program,” said Phillip Compeau, assistant department head for education. “We believe this will be a way to attract students,” he added, noting computational biology majors may be particularly interested in research compared to other students in the School of Computer Science.

“When we talk to prospective students, most of them want to know about research opportunities,” Compeau added.

Computational biology faculty members have agreed to place a priority on finding places in their research programs for undergraduates. This faculty commitment is important, Compeau explained, because it allows students to plug themselves into an existing research project. Students will not need to make their own research proposals or secure funding. A guaranteed undergraduate research experience is uncommon, he added, though not unprecedented.

The undergraduate program in computational biology began as the second major in the School of Computer Science this fall. The bachelor’s degree program joins existing master’s degree and Ph.D. programs in computational biology. It will prepare students for positions in high demand in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as for medical school and graduate studies across the spectrum of computation and biology.