Lab Research

Introduction to Independent Study Research

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (BMB) majors can earn academic credits and gain important real-life experience doing independent study (IS) research. A typical campus research lab has a Principal Investigator (PI), a professor who writes the grant proposals to obtain funding to support the lab, supervises the research, and supervises the writing of research manuscripts for publication. The lab members may include postdoctoral fellows (postdocs) who are recent PhD graduates, PhD or MS graduate students, other undergraduate students, and technicians. All work closely together on a particular research problem with each member pursuing an agreed-upon, but independent, role in the project. Students can join a research team at any point during their undergraduate career.

Do I have to be a member of Commonwealth Honors College to do IS research?
No, all BMB majors who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher are eligible to participate in IS research.

Do I have to have a research project in mind in order to join a lab?
No, you will most likely be added to one of the ongoing projects where you will be shown the basic techniques and allowed to develop lab skills, and you will start on a portion of a project that is feasible for an agreed upon number of hours per week in a semester.

Are there prerequisites for IS research?
BMB majors are generally expected to have a GPA of 3.0 or above. Some faculty members may want you to have taken certain courses before joining their lab.

How many credits is an IS?
Credits range from 1-6 and are based on an agreement between you and the faculty member whose lab you will join. Typically, one credit is equivalent to three hours of work per week.

How are IS graded?
IS sections are not structured in the same way as a lab or lecture course. Grading expectations should be described by the faculty member upon joining the lab. Often the expectations include attending regular lab meetings, presenting at lab meetings, regular written summaries of your findings and a final written report or presentation of a poster.

As a BMB major, can I only do IS research in a BMB lab?
No, BMB majors have a wide variety of labs to choose from outside of the BMB department. The field of biochemistry and molecular biology is cross-disciplinary by its very nature, and there are many labs across campus conducting research that is very relevant to BMB majors.

Finding a Research Lab

We recommend visiting the Office of Undergraduate Research & Studies (OURS) for help finding undergraduate research opportunities on and off campus. OURS has peer advisors who will help you identify labs and develop your approach to faculty. Check out their YouTube video to learn more! OURS has also created a short Research Readiness Moodle course that provides information about getting involved in research and guides you on ways to turn your interests into research projects.

Identify several faculty with whom you may want to work.

Contact individual faculty members by email.

  • Include your major, class year, career goals and interests, and express why you are interested in their lab.
  • Provide a resume. The CNS Career and Professional Development Center holds resume workshops and has staff and peer advisors who can work with you on your resume.
  • Request an appointment to discuss a possible research project. Provide your general ability over a two week time frame.
  • Allow adequate time for the faculty to respond. If necessary, send a friendly follow up email to the PI. Be persistent and patient.

Arrange to meet with each PI, and be prepared!

  • Learn the basic information about the PI’s research from their webpage.
  • Prepare questions to ask the PI about the research and specifically inquire about projects available for undergraduates.
  • Think about how much time you have available to work in the lab each semester, taking into account your other time commitments when you consider the number of academic credits you want to earn each semester.

Enrolling in an Independent Study

Enrollment in IS sections is by instructor consent. As with other courses, students can only be enrolled in IS sections before the end of Add/Drop. Consider volunteering in the lab during your first semester if you are unable to find a research lab before the Add/Drop deadline.

Obtain the appropriate form:

Both of these forms require detailed information on the work you will be doing in the lab. Please work with your PI or your graduate student supervisor to get all of the necessary information before submitting your form.

IS courses taken at the 300- and 400-level will count toward the required 8 credits of advanced electives. These form submissions will be carefully reviewed to ensure that the work you are doing in the lab is rigorous enough to count as an advanced elective.

BMB majors who are members of CHC are encouraged to do their Departmental Honors Thesis work in BMB labs, if possible (Biochem 499Y and 499T). However, in the case where an Honors student pursues work in a lab outside BMB, they must get approval from one of the BMB Honors Program Directors and have a BMB faculty member serving on the thesis committee. The Honors Program Director must sign their approval of the Honors Research Contract and accompanying preliminary proposal before enrollment in Biochem 499Y/T. See the CHC webpage describing the requirements for the individually contracted Honors Thesis proposal.

Questions about IS enrollment can be directed to

Tips for Working in a Lab

You're in a research lab! Now what? Learn how to make the most out of your undergraduate lab experience.

Resources for IS Research

Getting Started with Benchling
Benchling Guide to Data
Guide to Zotero
Guide to Journal Alerts