Finding an Independent Study

One of the great advantages of attending a major research institution like UMass is that you can get into a real, working lab and do some research yourself. There's no better way to learn how science is really done, and no better way of gaining an in-depth understanding of your favorite sub-discipline. If you're considering a research career and want to get an idea of what a researcher's work life is like, if you want a chance to explore biology outside of the classroom, or if you just want a richer scientific education, you really should look into getting some research experience.

You can do research during the school year, during the summer, or both. Most students start out by trying an independent study during the school year. The first step in setting up some independent research is to identify a faculty member with whom you'd like to work. To find out who's doing research that you might be interested in, consult the faculty listings for the Biology Department. These short summaries will tell you the general area in which each faculty member is working, and will also list a few representative publications. Hint: look up and read a few of these publications, so that when you approach a prospective research supervisor, you'll be a little familiar with what he or she does. Also, you needn't limit yourself to Biology Department faculty; professors in a number of other departments also do research on biological topics, so consider talking with researchers in the other life science departments.

Once you've identified a few faculty members to target, check to see any of them has posted a position through the Biology Undergraduate Research Apprenticeships (BURA) program. If you find a BURA listing, you can apply, but if your target faculty members have not listed a position, it's up to you to approach them and ask if you can do an independent study with them. Don't be shy; almost all professors enjoy working with undergrads, and have a bunch of students in their labs already. Some labs may be full already, so just keep asking until you find someone interesting to work with. You and your faculty supervisor should agree on what your project will be, and how many credits you'll get when it's complete. Be sure that you and your supervisor have a clear understanding of what is expected of you. Any level of commitment can be acceptable; just be sure that everyone involved has agreed in advance as to what the expectations will be.

When you're ready to enroll in independent study credits, fill out the Independent Study Form (for Biology majors and students working with a Biology faculty member only). Send the completed form, including a signature or other indication of approval from the faculty supervisor, to Sue Clevenger (