Ask some of the newest members of UVA’s International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition team why they plan to spend the summer in a lab on Grounds splicing DNA, and they have a tendency to talk over one another in their eagerness to explain.
“It’s undergraduate research, but we’re not treated like undergraduates,” said 19-year-old Josh Leehan, a second-year biology student.
“That’s one of the appeals for a lot of people,” said Elizabeth Kelly, 20, another second-year bio major. Plenty of undergrads at UVA get the chance to work in labs, she said. “But you’re not doing anything on your own. You’re doing someone else’s work.”
Not so with iGEM, a decade-old contest that challenges college students from different disciplines and from all over the world to solve real problems with synthetic biology—almost entirely on their own. UVA bio professor Keith Kozminski, one of several faculty members who mentor the group, describes the year-long program University undergrads have built around the competition in more sweeping terms.
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