What is undergraduate research?
Undergraduate research is scientific work performed by undergraduate student volunteers in research laboratories here on campus, for experience and course credit. Usually, the work consists of helping a graduate student or professional researcher perform experiments in the lab; as the undergraduate student becomes more experienced, they may work on a project more independently.
The amount of time involved ranges from about 5 to 20 hours per week, and students can get 1 to 3 hours of course credit in MB 493 each semester. Some faculty will expect students to have had MB 351, MB 360, or other advanced courses and commit to 2 semesters of work, but many do not, and the only other requirement would be the willingness to commit their time and energy to it.
Why is undergraduate research important?
Undergraduate research is intended to provide an opportunity for the student to learn the manual and intellectual skills required to do microbiological experiments. Unfortunately, it is not possible to really learn these skills in classroom labs.
When reviewing applicants, companies, government agencies, and graduate schools look for research experience. For example, our own Microbiology department does not admit graduate students without some kind of laboratory experience. How do you get that experience? Through undergraduate research!
In addition, any job (or school, or internship, etc) you apply for is likely to ask for letters of recommendation. You should be able to provide at least 3 good letters of recommendation from those in your field of interest. Letters from supervisors of your undergraduate research can make a big difference!
How can I get involved in undergraduate research?
There are several routes to get into undergraduate research. Don't wait until you've already started your last semester - you need to plan on spending at least 2 semesters in the lab, and labs fill up quickly.
The time to start is before the end of the semester prior to when you wish to start.
Before contacting anyone, you should review the the Faculty web pages to get an idea of what each of the labs do, and identify a few that fit your interests. Most of the microbiology labs provide opportunities for undergraduate research. You should also know when and how much time you have available to work in the lab, and have your resume up to date.
Then contact the faculty member running the labs you're interested in to see which has space available. There are several ways to do this:
Contact faculty member whose lab you're most interesting in working in. Even if they can't accomodate a student at that time, they may be able to help you find another interesting lab that does. Volunteer to do reagent preparation or general maintenance for the lab. After you demonstrate your dependability, ask for more scientific responsibilities and, eventually, a research project.
Talk to your advisor or the Undergraduate Coordinator.
MB 360 Scientific Inquiry in Microbiology: At the Bench, is a class specifically designed to prepare students for undergraduate research. The Microbiology faculty have agreed to make make research opportunities available to any student who succeeds in this class.
Most importantly, don't put it off!