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An integral part of our biology undergraduate program is the opportunity to participate in a research experience. This experience may be a research project in a faculty laboratory or independent study with biological sciences education faculty. In laboratory research you will interact with graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty to learn basic technical and communication skills necessary to help you be successful in a variety of settings after graduating from the University. But more importantly you will learn how science is done and the processes by which scientific questions are formulated and then converted into experiments.
By becoming a member of a research group, you will gain a depth of knowledge in an area of Biology that cannot be offered through classes at the University. You may also participate in conferences outside the University or establish personal contacts, which will be of benefit in future years. Many students engaging in research are encouraged to report their findings at local or national scientific meetings and publish their results in international scientific journals. In 2018, ten students presented their research at the
Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego. The undergraduate research competition featured about 250 posters from universities across the country. Our students won two honorable mention citations. These experiences are particularly valuable for those students wishing to attend graduate school, but are also beneficial for those planning on applying to professional schools. Independent study with our Biological Science faculty generates a perspective often missing in classroom education.
Students who elect to write a senior thesis in Biology work for two semesters under the guidance of a faculty director on a project of their choice, with the goal of contributing something original and valuable to the scientific community. A senior thesis student presents and defends their work in front of a committee of three faculty in the spring of their senior year.
While a senior thesis is required to earn an Honors Degree with Distinction, students outside of the Honors College can also complete a senior thesis. Students interested in writing a thesis typically become involved in research by the spring of their junior year.
Although students interested in a research experience are encouraged to identify mentors in their sophomore year, students can do so in the junior, or more rarely, in the senior or freshman year. Each faculty member has his/her own criteria for accepting students into their lab. Most require a minimum grade point average, some a minimum time commitment and others specific courses. To begin the process, consult our lists of
faculty mentors for a statement of faculty research interests and requirements.
Once you have identified potential faculty sponsors, please submit an
undergraduate research interest form. This form helps us find a place for you in a laboratory, but does not obligate you to do research. Because the demand for research projects is higher than the number of openings in some laboratories, we recommend that you identify three faculty members whose research interests you and submit your application before one of the suggested
deadlines. Although the deadlines are not absolute, students applying after those dates often find it difficult to secure a place in a laboratory. Once the application has been reviewed, the Director of Undergraduate Research in the Department of Biological Sciences will submit your application to individual faculty and then notify you of available positions. You will then be asked to make an appointment with one of the mentors. This will give you the chance to determine if the research project and the laboratory situation is right for you. You must let the faculty member and the Director of Undergraduate Research know of your choice within two weeks of the interview. Please DO NOT contact professors without first having submitted an application.
Besides working with Department of Biological Sciences faculty, students may work with faculty in other departments. In the past Biological Science majors have worked in laboratories of faculty in the Departments of Animal Science, Plant and Soil Science, Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physical Therapy and Chemical Engineering. Independent study projects in these other departments can earn Biological Science credit but this credit must be approved by Justin Parreno prior to registering with the other department. Research in faculty labs listed in the linked mentor web pages have already been approved for Biological Sciences credit.
In interviews with faculty members, make sure that you understand exactly what is expected. If you intend to apply for a summer fellowship, you must also write a research proposal outlining the aims of the project and the methods to be used. Once you start research, you will be teamed with a technician, graduate student, postdoctoral fellow or faculty member to learn relevant techniques. It is important at this stage to know how much time must be devoted to research. You should expect to spend about 10 hours per week in the lab during the academic year and more during the summer (optional), but this may vary. After the initial training, faculty will either allow you to work on your own research project, or assign you to a part of an ongoing laboratory effort. In many labs it is also important that you attend weekly lab meetings.
The Department and University have six different fellowship programs that offer financial assistance for summer research projects. These fellowships are highly competitive and are based on academic record, a personal meeting with and a recommendation from a faculty mentor and a clearly thought out research proposal. Because applications for summer research fellowships are usually due around March 1, students must identify a faculty mentor before February 1. Students awarded summer fellowships are not charged tuition but are responsible for their own living expenses. The University makes available dormitory rooms for those needing accommodations but meals are the student's responsibility. Cooking facilities are available.
programs supporting students for the summer.
To apply for a summer fellowship from any of these programs, please fill out the convenient single online
It is also possible to apply for national fellowships. Students from our department have been awarded prestigious fellowships from Pfizer and the American Society for Microbiology. Please contact Dr. Usher about applying for these awards.
Although it is possible to participate in laboratory research outside the University, a Biology faculty member must oversee the project to earn University course credit. There are a many good opportunities to do research in laboratories in other Universities during the summer. Some of these opportunities can be found at the following web sites:
All students beginning a research project are
required to participate in safety training. This training is the responsibility of the faculty mentor. This training should occur within two weeks of joining the laboratory.
The Department encourages students to present their research findings. At the end of the 10 week summer session, the department sponsors an undergraduate symposium. In addition, fellowship students are required either to present a poster or to give a seminar during a University wide research symposium sponsored by University's Undergraduate Research Office. Many mentors require additional oral presentations during laboratory meetings.
(suggested deadlines for improving the chances of securing a research position)
Contact the Undergraduate Research Director, Justin Parreno, at firstname.lastname@example.org to answer questions or schedule an appointment.