College Spotlight: Life Sciences

You may already know that the College of Life Sciences consists of seven academic departments. What you may not know is that Life Sciences is the largest college on BYU’s Provo campus with over 4,800 declared undergraduate majors and 200-plus graduate student majors. A whopping 1,211 students received their undergraduate and graduate degrees from the College of Life Sciences in 2016. Despite the ever-rising number of majors, graduates are leaving the university exceptionally prepared for life post-graduation, whether that is graduate or professional school, industry, or something else.

Life Sciences is home to 146 full-time faculty, and nearly 60 of these were hired since 2010. The majority of the new hires have recently completed postdoctoral research at top-ranked schools. They come to BYU with the most compelling research agendas. They can’t wait to share them with students, students who come to BYU better prepared each year than they were the year before. Former Life Sciences Dean Rodney J. Brown (2005-2015) said, “Imagine the difficulty of providing enough challenge for the kind of students we work with every day. Having an outstanding faculty is the most important ingredient in building a successful college or university. Faculty members hired today have more and better preparation than any who preceded them. [They] must not only teach students, but also include students in their research work and show students the connection between their academic knowledge and their testimony of more important things. This is the key to successfully teaching our students.”

Life Sciences professors are scientists in the truest sense of the word. The college places a high priority on moving research through to publication. Publishing means having the faculty member’s research scrutinized by his or her peers and professionals in their chosen field. If faculty are not publishing, their research runs the risk of becoming little more than a hobby. Those contributing new knowledge in their fields of expertise maintain their status as scientists. Mentorships provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to complete original research under the direction of a faculty mentor, much like apprentices. Often those students end up as co-authors, or even lead authors, on papers published in leading scientific journals. It is not uncommon for an undergraduate to be mistaken for a graduate student at a professional meeting.

Meet Dr. Alan Lee. Alan graduated with a B.S. from BYU in molecular biology. He spent two years working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland, and then went on to medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently in his third year of residency specializing in OB/GYN at Ohio State. While Alan was an undergraduate student at BYU, he performed mentored research under the direction of Dr. Kim O’Neill, a faculty member in Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Alan excelled in his field and was invited to present a poster on early cancer detection at the conference of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Alan caught the eye of Dr. Giuseppe Giaccone, Chief of Medical Oncology from the NIH. Mistaking Alan for a Ph.D. student, Dr. Giaccone asked Alan for his card. He was surprised to learn that Alan was an undergraduate student. They met later that afternoon with a lab manager from NIH to discuss possible openings, despite the fact that there were no current vacancies. Alan completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship at the NIH, the sole B.S. in a lab full of Ph.D.s and M.D.s.

Alan’s undergraduate experience is just one example of scholarly success from this college—there are many others. Because of dedicated mentors in the College of Life Sciences, students gain confidence and knowledge, develop and strengthen personal testimonies, and get a leg-up on their post-baccalaureate goals.