Lab Research

Introduction to Independent Study Research

The Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Department places a high priority on research experience for undergraduate majors. BMB majors can earn academic credits (including advanced elective credits) and gain important real-life experience doing independent study (IS) research. IS sections are typically numbered 196, 296, 396 or 496, and enrollment is by instructor consent.

IS research allows students to become involved in a wide range of research projects in federally funded University labs. 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. Undergraduates can join a research team as early as their first year and in their final year.

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 and conduct IS research?

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 pre-requisites for IS research?

BMB majors are generally expected to have a GPA of 3.0 or above. Every faculty member is different as to whether they want you to have taken certain courses first.

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, a credit is based on some number of hours per week that you will be working in the research lab.

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?

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. So BMB major have a wide variety of labs to choose from outside of the BMB department. The credits for Independent Study (Research) that BMB majors earn for working in a research lab can count toward the required 8 credits of advanced electives; however students should confirm with a BMB advisor that an IS will qualify for advanced elective credit in the BMB major.

BMB majors who are members of CHC are strongly 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.

Enrolling in an Independent Study

It is very important that the student’s schedule can accommodate the additional time required without adversely affecting the student’s coursework or GPA. Students are encouraged to consult with a BMB Advisor to discuss decisions about research opportunities.

The challenging part of enrolling in an IS is finding a lab that has openings for undergraduates. This will take some time and as with other courses, enrollment must be completed by the end of Add/Drop in the semester that you plan to take the IS. You need to start this process well in advance of Add/Drop!

Important First Step! Visit 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 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.

Check-out the opportunities offered through the Biology Undergraduate Apprenticeships (BUA) Program. Faculty from many departments list opportunities for IS research, paid lab positions and undergraduate TA opportunities. This site is generally open twice per year prior to an upcoming semester.

Identify several faculty with whom you may want to work.

Write 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.

Contact individual faculty members by email (OURS peer advisors can help you craft this email)

  • Include your major, class year, career goals and interests, and express why you are interested in their lab.
  • Provide a 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 undergraduate independent research.
  • Think about how much time you have available to work in the lab each semester and take into account your other time commitments when you consider the number of academic credits you want to earn each semester.

Obtain the appropriate form

Note that 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.

Tips for Working in a Lab

You've made it into an independent research lab... now what? Learn how to make the most out of your undergraduate lab experience.

Resources for Lab Research

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