University of Vermont

Heather McLaughlin

Undergraduate student, biochemistry major

Heather McLaughlin

There was an element of self-sacrifice in '08 grad Heather McLaughlin's decision to choose Harvard over Johns Hopkins for graduate school. If the biochemistry major and Red Sox fan had gone with Hopkins, she could have watched the visiting Sox play the Orioles in Baltimore's Camden Yards for $20 a ticket, much less than scalpers demand at perennially sold out Fenway Park.

In the end, Harvard's preeminent life sciences faculty and 200 labs were enough to tip the scales in favor of the Crimson over not only Johns Hopkins but also Yale and MIT, where she was also accepted.

That McLaughlin would be pursuing a career as a research scientist at all, never mind choosing between four top grad schools, might have surprised her four years ago. "I barely knew what a pipette was," she says. McLaughlin did know she wanted to be a science major, so the first year Honors College student began systematically "knocking on doors of labs" to see if she could join a faculty member's research team.

She found a taker in Doug Johnson, a professor in UVM's department of microbiology and molecular genetics. She had "an amazing experience" in his lab, eventually co-authoring a paper on her work there that was published in a scientific journal.

Research opportunities open doors for UVM undergrads

McLaughin's experience isn't unusual, Johnson says. At UVM even first-year students have an opportunity to work with faculty on their research.

"That's a big selling point," he says, especially for "students in the life sciences, since there is a medical college right on campus."

McLaughlin, who took advantage of that proximity by also logging lab time at UVM's College of Medicine, will pursue a Ph.D. at the Harvard Medical School in chemical biology and molecular pharmacology.