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I'm currently a first-year undergraduate student in Computational Biology, and I'm deciding between two opportunities for this summer. Here are my choices!

  1. I work in a professor's lab at my university, who's a very well-established professor and one of the top researchers in my field. I really enjoy my work at the lab, and I would be very interested in continuing my work, as the professor has offered to fund me to continue research over the summer.
  2. I was offered a spot on my university's iGEM team, which is a synthetic biology competition that culminates in the competition in Paris.
  3. I was also offered a remote industry internship with a company that does work that aligns perfectly with my interests, and the remote internship would also allow me to go home and spend more time with my family.

So, my question is, how is iGEM regarded compared to research at a professor's lab? I've heard lots of great things about iGEM, as lots of people say that iGEM builds lots of critical research and teamwork skills. However, some people say that they see iGEM as a red-flag, as students can sometimes develop poor habits as a result of figuring out techniques on their own. From what I've gathered from my university's iGEM team, it seems like a decently organized team, as they have faculty and grad student mentors, although the biggest concerns that several students cited as a problem in the past was ensuring commitment from the whole team. What are some of the factors to evaluate when considering an iGEM team, since I've heard the team often makes the experience?

As for my future career goals, I'm still open to exploring different career paths, including industry, academia, or non-profit jobs, and I want to have a variety of experiences in undergrad to figure out what kind of job appeals to me. One of my main considerations is that while I enjoy my work at the lab, in prior years, I've spent my summers working in academic research labs, and I thought it might be good to get a chance to branch out and explore some other types of biology-related positions out there, which is why I'm considering the industry internship. However, the professor I work for is really great, and a spot at her lab is very highly coveted at my university, so it's quite a unique opportunity to get to work in her lab.

Any advice, recommendations, or information about iGEM and how it's regarded by the field would be greatly appreciated!

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  • "the biggest concerns that several students cited as a problem in the past was ensuring commitment from the whole team" - I believe that is always a problem when more than one student is involved, and even when only one student is involved. (Side note to professors - all members of a "team" project do not generally deserve the same grade, so don't take the easy way out.)
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jan 3 at 14:18

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How exciting to have so many different options to pick from!

Since you write that you are a first year undergraduate student I can only conclude that you still have your whole life ahead of you. Therefore, in the grand scheme of things, which ever choice you make - should it not be the 'best choice', if such a thing exists - will not have a major impact. For example, you state that some may frown upon taking part in iGEM (which I've never heard, I think that's a cool competition) - if that is so, in a couple of years this will have become just a line on your CV that will hardly be a deal breaker (not in a negative sense at least).

I am not saying this to diminish the problem (you live in the here and now and have to make a choice), but to advise you not to take it too serisously. Many more opportunities will come and you will miss out on some because in life you have to make choices all of the time. So - use this time when anything is still possible to try different things. You will learn something useful from whatever choice you make!

Many opportunities will present itself again in the upcoming decade(s) (working in a lab or in industry) - especially once you build more experience. Others will not come along again (such as an iGEM student competition). Follow your heart - and if you want to be close to family in the summer that's a perfectly valid thing and reason to influence your choice as well!

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Personally, I believe that committing to work with your professor right from the first year can be quite demanding. Instead, consider participating in the iGEM student competition. It provides valuable exposure and motivation, opportunities to travel to locations relevant to your field of study, and a wealth of knowledge that can significantly influence your future academic plans. This experience can also indirectly benefit your professor's lab. You can still take on an opportunity for the online internship if it is not so demanding, given that you'll be engaged with iGEM

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