I am always looking for undergrads who want to get research experience in algorithmic bioinformatics (this is usually called REU, short for Research Experience for Undergrads). Research can be very rewarding and fun, and, as an undergraduate, you get to do it without the pressure that grad students have. Its also a great way to see if you want to go to grad school, and, if so, strengthen your application. Its not unusual for the work of undergraduates to end up in a published paper, along with their names. But to have a successful REU, it is important to start with the right skill set. Here are some key things I look for when screening applications.

A lot of what you would be doing day-to-day involves programming. I look for the following things (in order of importance):

  • Proficiency in either C/C++ or Python
  • Experience with Unix/Linux command line scripting, like bash.
  • Experience with make files and fixing compile and link time errors in C/C++
  • Ability to make plots from data using R or an equivalent.
  • Ability to install packages / programs in the Unix/Linux environment.
  • Experience with a debugger, like gdb or pdb
  • Experience with version control systems, like git

Of course, some of these things can be picked up during the research experience. But in order to get to the cool research part, you should already have many of these skills before you start. Unfortunately, courses like CMPSC 121/122 do not give you all the necessary experience. Fortunately, you can learn all of these things through online resources and practice projects (for example, http://software-carpentry.org/lessons/). CMPSC 311 also gives you many of the necessary skills, and I encourage you to have taken this class if you are interested in a REU.

Its not only the programming skills that are important, but also the mindset. A successful REU requires a lot of dedication and hard work. REU students are expected to work a minimum of 10-15 hours a week during the semester, in addition to their regular course load. Many students that find research rewarding are excited to spend their free time doing it, but, it does require sacrificing other activities. It is hard for me to judge how dedicated or hard working you are in advance, but, the best indicator I have is your GPA. Your grades in CMPSC360 and CMPSC465 are particularly important. Typically, successful applicants have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and an A- or higher in these two classes (if they have taken them).

If you are interested in applying for an REU, please send me you CV/Resume, your advising transcript, and anything else you would like to me know. Please make sure to highlight any experience you have with any of the things in the above list. I will get back to you if your application is promising, but please note that, due to the amount of requests I receive, I am not able to respond to all applications.