Gateway to Graduate School in Biology – Program Overview

The GGSB program is funded by a grant to TCNJ from the National Science Foundation (NSF), with the goal of preparing students for successful application to graduate school and a career as a research scientist in Biology. This program is suited to students who already have an interest in becoming a biological scientist and know they will need a Masters or Ph.D degree, and to students who are exploring their options. A career in science offers an extremely rewarding and interesting life in every respect. The path to this great career is a strong undergraduate science education, followed by graduate school, where students conduct research full time as apprentice scientists, and typically are paid excellent stipends and are given full tuition for 5-7 years (compared to, for example, medical school, which will cost $100K - $200K).

Students who may apply to GGSB are those who have been accepted into the Biology major or Open Options-Science at TCNJ and who belong to a group that is underrepresented in the biological sciences as defined by NSF: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons with disabilities.

The core of the program is four 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. Gateway Scholars receive academic credit for their research experiences and considerable stipend support in their Junior and Senior years, when they are engaged in research at the highest level ($12,200 as Juniors and $6,600 as Seniors). 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 GGSB program is unlike anything that can be found at most other colleges or universities. From the first month at TCNJ, the Gateway Scholars are integrated into the Department of Biology not only by taking Themes in Biology with the other freshmen, but also by joining a faculty-student lab for a month of research shadowing, followed by five more month-long experiences. They sample research in three lab groups that work on organisms in the environment and three lab groups that work on cell/molecular biology and/or genetics in classic model organisms. In each of these labs, 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 freshman year, the Gateway Scholars choose one of the six labs to join for three years of sustained research with a faculty mentor, who also becomes their academic advisor. 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 16 well equipped faculty-student labs with 30-50 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

Freshman Year

The students are given a list of faculty-student research labs that are participating in GGSB, including some focused on the cellular/molecular/genetic side of biology and some focused on the environmental/population side of biology. They rank each lab by interest level, and then are assigned to two to three of the cell/molec labs and two to three of the environmental biology labs for the four to six, month-long mini-rotations. 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].

Sophmore Year

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 Junior Summer and Rising Senior Summer

During one of these summers, the Gateway Scholars participate in TCNJ's fun and rewarding eight-week residential research program, the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience (MUSE; They conduct research with their faculty mentors full-time (approx. 8 hr/day), and live on campus with the other MUSE students (typically 60-70 students from many disciplines at the College). The students receive a research stipend of $3,200 and the GGSB program also pays for the on-campus housing (worth approximately $1500). During the 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

Junior Year

The students advance to research for a full course unit credit each semester, spending about 12 hr/week. 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, and the program funds a GRE prep course (worth $1050). The students receive a stipend of $9000 during this academic year, in recognition of their deep engagement with research during this period.

Senior Year

The students again receive 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 your research. During this year the students are supported in their preparation of applications to graduate programs in biology. They receive a stipend of $6600 during this academic year, in recognition of their completion of research during this period.

All Four Years

There are four mentoring workshops each year, geared toward the students' professional development as future biological scientists. The Gateway Scholars participate in several events at area high schools, in order to inform students about GGSB and recruit new freshman cohorts of Gateway Scholars.

Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Years

The students attend two scientific talks by minority biological scientists from research universities and attend a dinner with each, in order to learn more about their research and the graduate school experience.
There is a celebratory research symposium and banquet at the end of the year where the Gateway Scholars present their research to the GGSB community and their families.

Junior and Senior Years

There are two field trips each year to area research universities to see the graduate school environment, tour labs, and meet graduate students and faculty.

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