Research in Faculty Labs

Research in Faculty labs

One aspect of a professor’s job is to train the next generation of scientists. Professors mentor graduate and post-graduate students in their lab, but in addition, professors find great reward in mentoring an undergraduate student if the student’s interest in research is genuine. Faculty look very poorly on student efforts solely intended to improve a resume in preparation or gain recommendation for medical school.

A student is qualified to work in a lab if (s)he:

  • Possess an excellent work ethic.
  • Is independent, persistent, and reliable.
  • Is informed about the research of faculty.
  • Respects the substantial time, effort, and research funds faculty invest to train and professionally develop undergraduate researchers in their lab.

How do students find host research laboratories?  Here are some suggested steps to follow:

(1) Plan on working with a faculty researcher for at least 2 semesters and for no fewer than 10 hours per week (in focused blocks of at least 3 hours).

(2) Go to the Research page of the Biology website, and click on AEM, CMBP, MGB and NBB. Slides featuring the research of each graduate faculty member will rotate on a carousel. Click on a slide of interest and it will take you to the faculty member’s profile page. Read about the lab research in more detail.

(3) Familiarize yourself with at least 3 articles written by potential faculty mentors. Spend time summarizing, in writing, why their research interests you. Many of their articles can be found by searching PubMed (, and in addition, their most recent articles can be found on the recent publication page of the Biology website. This process sets you up for success by establishing you as a serious candidate for research opportunities.

(4) Prepare a resume specifically for seeking a research position. Effective resumes appear professional and are grammatically correct. Include your GPA on your resume. (You will be asked for it! Bear in mind that faculty will likely only consider you for their laboratory with a minimum overall GPA of 3.0.) Emphasize strengths that you feel will be valuable in a laboratory context. Reliability (showing up on time, every time), problem solving skills, independence (searching for solutions to difficulties on your own and planning the next step prior to seeking help in a work setting), and thinking outside the box (novel hypotheses are great to hear from students!) are  rare but important qualities for you to cultivate.

(5) Write, edit, and rewrite your introductory email to the faculty member, asking if they are available at a specific date and time to meet in person. A single introductory email may take you 20-30 minutes to write! Extensive effort in preparing an introductory email greatly improves your probability of being received well. (I suggest that you begin your email with the formal introduction “Dear Dr. _________,”.) Mention in your email why their research interests you, referring to one or two of the papers you read in Step #2. Conclude your email with a request to follow-up in person at a specific day in the coming 2 weeks. Attach your resume to the email.

What should a student do once (s)he has found a host research laboratory?

The Program for Undergraduate Research in the Life Sciences oversees approvals of BIOL 4910. Once the student and faculty mentor have decided on a project, the student should complete the BIOL4910 Agreement and Approval Form and email a signed copy to PURL for review. Pending departmental approval by PURL, the student will be able register for the appropriate section of BIOL 4910.

After the project is completed, you must submit a report detailing the work that you performed by the last day of regular classes. Instructions on how to write the report can be found here and should include the BIOL_4910 cover sheet. These documents can be turned in by email to PURL.