Undergraduate research is a great opportunity to prepare you for work or graduate study. The experience will add to your understanding of the scientific method by developing practical lab skills. If you are considering a career in research, your undergraduate research experience will help you decide if that path is right for you. It is also a great way to build a “portfolio” to highlight your abilities and experience. Since you will be working closely with one or two professors/researchers, this is a good opportunity to network and have someone in place to write future letters of recommendation.
What will I be doing?
Undergraduate research varies depending on the agreement between you and your professor. The goal of undergraduate research is to teach you practical skills and understand the broader scope of scientific research. This includes going beyond the lab work and includes data analysis, reading original research papers related to the topic, learning how to keep a laboratory notebook, present your research at local or national meetings, and write a final research report. Many undergraduates are co-authors on published manuscripts.
When should I start?
The earlier the better! Do not wait until your senior year; it will limit your experience and opportunities. The best way to find a mentor is to approach faculty that you’re interested in working with individually. Check the Department’s faculty profiles and their personal lab web pages to get an idea of what each faculty member is working on. Many professors are willing to take students with no prior research experience. Be sure to provide a resume or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) upon contacting a faculty member about research opportunities.
How much time will I spend on research?
In the Department of Biological Science, most faculty expect students to work a minimum of three hours per week to receive one credit. For example, if you register for three credits of research you would be expected to work at least nine hours of work in the lab per week. Since the requirements may vary, you should talk with your professor about how many credits to register for and the amount of time you would be expected to be in the lab.
Do I receive a grade for undergraduate research credits?
If you register for Independent Study in the Department of Biological Sciences you will receive a grade. Please note that in this “class” you will not have a syllabus or exams. It is therefore important to ask your professor which option to sign up for, how the grade will be determined and what the criteria will be. Generally students either submit a paper or give an oral presentation at the end of the semester.
Will the credits count towards my major?
Yes. A maximum of 6 research credits of Independent Study 697/698/699 will apply towards your major requirements. Also, Independent Study (697/698/699) courses may be counted as your capstone requirement with the approval of your academic advisor.
How do I find a faculty member to work with?
You should start by doing your own research on topics you are interested in and that are being investigated in the Biological Sciences department. Read journal articles and other publications to help you become more knowledgeable about that field and then seek out professors who do research in your field of interest (see How to Apply for more information). Before you email a professor to inquire about their lab, be sure to think about including the following information:
- Introduce yourself and state what attributes you have to offer.
- Tell them what you’re looking for (experience, credit, how many hours and semesters).
- Tell them why you’re writing to them (their research interests you, you know someone in their lab, you were referred to them, you took a course with them).
- Include an unofficial transcript, resume, or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.).
What if the professor I contact says “no”?
You will need to contact several professors before you are able to make an arrangement. When you talk with a professor who does not have a suitable project or space available in his/her lab, ask if he/she can recommend a person you could speak with next. You may have to go through a few “no’s” to get to a “yes”, but it only takes one yes!
Sampling of Recent Undergraduate Research Project Titles
- ‘Laboratorification’ of Commercially Available Baker’s Yeast for Rational Design of Strains with Improved Characteristics (Faculty Mentor: Sergei Kuchin)
- Localization of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells in a Murine Model of Stage IV Breast Cancer (Faculty Mentor: Douglas Steeber)
- How Habitat Type and Availability Effects Macroinvertabrate Colonization, Abundancy and Overall Diversity in a Freshwater Stream (Faculty Mentor: Timothy Ehlinger)
- An ABC type Transporter is Essential for Biofilm Formation, Nodulation of Sesbania cannabina and Endophytic Colonization of Rice (Oryza sativa) by Rhizobium sp. IRBG74 (Faculty Mentor: Gyaneshwar Prasad)
- Evolution of Bacterial Bioluminescence in Relation to Microbial Biogeography (Faculty Mentor: Charles Wimpee)
- Development of a Genetic System for Porphyrmonas gingivalis (Faculty Mentors: Mark McBride and Daad Saffarini)
- The c-di-GMP Binding Protein YcgR Regulates Motility and the Type III Secretion System in Dickeya dadantii 3937 (Faculty Mentor: Ching-Hong Yang)
- Preparation of Stably Transfected Cell Lines Using Tissue Factor – Fluorescent Protein Fusion Partners (Faculty Mentor: Julie Oliver)
- Importance of Remineralization of Cladophora-Epiphyte Assemblages on Silicate Cycling in Lake Michigan (Faculty Mentors: John Berges, Erica Young, and Gabriella Pinter)
- Agent-Based Modeling of Phytoplankton Cell Death: Responses to Abiotic Factors in a Small Urban Pond (Faculty Mentor: John Berges)
- Assessment of the Population Genetic Structure of Cladophora spp Along the West Coast of Lake Michigan and its Tributaries (Faculty Mentor: Filipe Alberto)
- Regulation of the GAP43 Gene During Central Nervous System Regeneration (Faculty Mentor: Ava J Udvadia)