Occidental Ranks High in Federal Research
Occidental is one of the country's top recipients of federal research funds among liberal arts colleges, according to the National Science Foundation.
The more than $920,000 in in NSF grants Occidental faculty received in 2006-07 place it in the top 25 nationally, ahead of such schools as Amherst, Swarthmore, and Pomona.
The research funding in the field of biology, physics, chemistry, and geology reflect Occidental's emphasis on the important role research plays in informing teaching and providing opportunities for collaboration between students and faculty. Last year, more than 200 Occidental students participated in undergraduate research, including the 34 invited to present their work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
"In addition to an array of scientific skills that are learned, research requires the development of a set of professional skills -- writing, speaking, ethics, team work -- that a student will hold for a lifetime and will find invaluable in any intellectual endeavor or career," says Chemistry Professor and NSF grant recipient Eileen Spain.
"Those who persevere, and most do with the help of a friendly professor, are sobered by what is required to get research done in the lab and more generally, about getting things done in this world," said Physics Professor Daniel Snowden-Ifft, also an NSF grant recipient. "This is a powerful lesson and one which will serve them well on whatever road they choose to take in the future."
When Sally June Tracy '08 began working in Physics Professor George Schmiedeshoff's lab, "he realized that I was particularly interested in crystal growth and structure, so he called up some of the people he collaborates with at Los Alamos National Laboratory who do research in those areas," she recalls. Schmiedeshoff, another NSF grant recipient, made arrangements for Tracy to go to Los Alamos to work the following summer, an experience that yielded post-graduation dividends. Tracy is now spending a year working at Los Alamos while applying to graduate school.
"For students interested in experimental sciences, working in the lab can be the best classroom. Gaining research experience as an undergraduate is invaluable and, of course, necessary to get into any graduate program," said Tracy. Professors agree: "A substantive undergraduate research experience is a de facto requirement for admission to the top Ph.D. programs," says Spain.
By engaging in research, Occidental faculty are continually learning and discovering, which results in teachers who are both engaged and passionate about their fields. "I enjoy collaborative work with anyone who loves science," says Spain. "Occidental students are particularly wonderful collaborators because as a group they have a solid work ethic and are willing to advance fresh new ideas in the lab. Hard work, new ideas, and the willingness to take a chance help drive scientific knowledge forward."