- Professors at small colleges care about their students and therefore, lacking grad students, involve undergrads in research. Since there are more research opportunities for undergraduates at small colleges, students from large universities should be given priority in these summer internship programs.
- Professors at large universities typically involve undergraduates in their research. Since there are more research opportunities for undergraduates at large universities, students from small colleges should be given priority in these summer internship programs.
It is not possible to make a general statement like the ones above about small colleges vs. research institutions. You would need to specify institutions and disciplines.
When making decisions about applicants to an internship program with which I have been associated, we do not differentiate between students from small colleges and research universities. We look to see what courses they have taken, how they did, what they say about their interests, and whether someone at their home institution thinks they would benefit from a research experience. We do not expect students to arrive with research experience; we expect to provide them with a research experience.
Without even trying, we end up with a good mix of students from different types of institutions (small/large, public/private, prestigious/not), a gender ratio that matches the applicant pool (typically there are more female applicants than male), and a % of minority students that is low but nevertheless slightly higher than their representation in the student population as a whole.
What's not to like about these results? Apparently our program is not reaching the "right" students. We are apparently supposed to reach out and recruit students who do not otherwise have access to research experiences.
That's where the contradictory statements above come in because different people have different opinions about where the students-lacking-research-experiences are: Are they at small colleges or at large research universities? [Students from 2-year colleges have participated in our program, but most of our applicants are from 4+-year institutions.]
Of course they are at both types of institutions. Should our summer program really check to see whether the internship we offer would be the student's only chance at research? Should we institute a check-box on the application to ask students to promise that they are woefully isolated from all possibilities of other research experiences? Should we compile a list of those institutions that do a particularly bad job of providing research experiences for their own undergraduates and give preference to applicants from those schools?
I understand the importance of research experiences for students who want to continue in Science after they graduate, but, other than helping provide just such an experience for some students, I am not sure we can do more than seek out motivated and talented students who want to do an internship in our department, at our university, no matter where their academic home is.