Hands-on research experience is one of the most effective ways to learn about science. You can learn the culture of research laboratories, how to think logically to develop a hypothesis or exploratory question, and how to use published research to help you design a novel experiment. Research is also useful preparation for graduate and professional programs or technical jobs.
Opportunities range from academic coursework with research components to summers or semesters (or four years!) working alongside a professor and peers in a research laboratory.
How to Get Started
Arranging a research opportunity begins with identifying your own interests and investigating the types of work underway in our faculty laboratories. Review faculty members' research websites and read at least the abstracts of some of their publications. If you know other students who do research in a Biology lab, ask them what it's like to see what might be a good fit for you. It's important to also consider if you can afford to spend the necessary hours each week in a lab — you'll be expected to manage your time effectively and honor all of your commitments. Typically, each credit of research requires 6 hours per week, but this includes time spent reading, thinking, and talking about biology with labmates, and varies across labs.
Your next step is to contact one or more professors, explain your interest, and ask how you can participate. Here's where having done your homework will pay off, as you can demonstrate that you are excited about the type of research done by that professor and are ready to contribute. Some tips:
- Email is the best way to contact a professor. Calling or texting is not recommended.
- Planning ahead is a good idea. You might, for example, initiate contact in the spring semester for opportunities the following fall. Keep in mind that professors often train new students at the beginning of the semester.
- Noting that you are available over the next summer might make you a more attractive candidate, as much research is done during summer sessions.
- Most research labs are at capacity, so don't expect a spot right away. If the lab is full, ask if an opportunity might become available next semester and how else you can become involved in the meantime. Maybe you can attend the lab's group meetings to learn more about other students' research. Or try a different professor.
Don't be discouraged if you're not offered an opportunity right away. All of our faculty are research-active, and there are many ways to participate.
Independent Study for Credit
Once you reach agreement with a professor about your participation in their lab, send them an email that includes your full name and 930 number. The professor will enter an override for you in Banner, allowing you to register for the independent study course. This must be done before the end of add/drop period of the semester you want to do research.
- Freshman students with a biology background can apply for Freshman Research (BIOL 201, 1 credit) and be introduced early to research with a faculty mentor. You’ll learn about this in your introductory Biology class.
- Introduction to Biological Research (BIOL 303, 1 credit) is another gateway to research in the lab or field conducted under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The course is graded Pass/Fail and may be repeated once with the same or another faculty advisor.
- Research in Biology (BIOL 403, variable credit) consists of independent laboratory or field research under the supervision of a faculty member. A written report is required. The course may be repeated up to a maximum of 6 credits, only 3 of which count towards the Biology major.
Summer Research on Campus
Summer is an active research time for faculty, and many Biology students participate in paid or unpaid research in campus laboratories. To participate, follow the same steps described above, in the section titled "How to Get Started."
The Biology Department supports the full-time research efforts of approximately 50 undergraduate majors each summer through internal and external funding. Students doing full-time research for ten weeks are provided with free housing in campus residence halls courtesy of Arts & Sciences.
A variety of summer research funding is available.
Summer Research off Campus
Many Biology majors gain research experience by participating in a summer program off campus (e.g., National Institutes of Health summer internships or National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates programs). Information about off-campus research opportunities is available through the Cohen Career Center.
In the senior year, students can undertake an Honors project, a formal research opportunity in which the challenges, demands, and potential rewards are higher than for ordinary faculty-supervised research in biology. Over the course of the year, you work with a faculty mentor to undertake a research project leading to a written thesis, which you then defend in public before a faculty committee.