Department of
Animal Biology

Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Study in Animal Biology at UIUC

Students interested in conducting research with faculty from the Department of Animal Biology typically are Integrative Biology majors. See the information on the IB Major at the IB website.

The School of Integrative Biology provides some information about undergraduate research .

All Animal Biology Laboratories Accept Undergraduate Researchers

Animal Biology Faculty

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

  • Undergrad research in Animal Biology Laboratories. IB 390 or IB 490. Contact Animal Biology Faculty directly for opportunities.
  • ENTRY POINT! is a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) offering Outstanding Internship Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Science, and some fields of Business. AAAS has developed unique partnerships with IBM, NASA, Merck, NOAA, Google and university science laboratories to meet their human resources needs. Working with its partners, AAAS identifies and screens undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are pursuing degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business, and places them in paid summer internships.
  • School of Integrative Biology Financial Support

Why Pursue Research as an Undergraduate?

We strongly encourage students with (or even without) a career interest in biology to engage in laboratory research during their undergraduate years. Such an experience can serve several purposes:

  • It can help you decide whether or not you are truly interested in - and have the disposition for - a postgraduate career in biological research.
  • It will provide you with an inside view of the day-to-day experimental processes that yield the data that led to the models, theories and dogmas filling the pages of textbooks.
  • It can give you the positive boost that comes from being a part of a collaborative and intellectually challenging enterprise, pursued by a dedicated group of which you will become a working member.
  • The laboratory in which you work can become your "study home away from home", as laboratories are usually relatively quiet environments, conducive to quality studying with minimal distraction.
  • The Principal Investigator (P.I.) of the laboratory in which you work can provide a letter of reference for your future job or graduate school applications that will carry more weight than those from professors who have only known you in the classroom.
  • There are diverse opportunities to present your research results at scientific gatherings on and off campus. Such an experience is invaluable and, needless to say, is a solid addition to one's resume.
  • You can write up your results and apply for graduation with Distinction in the school of IB or MCB, in whichever program you are majoring (you can work in a laboratory outside of your major school or department and still submit a Distinction paper to IB or MCB).
  • With hard work, you can author or co-author a scientific publication.

What to Expect and What Will be Expected of You

Commitment to a research project in a UIUC laboratory is not a decision to be taken lightly. Know what you're in for before you sign on. Consider the following:

  • You will earn college credit for your time spent in the laboratory, credit hours that could have been earned in electives that your laboratory experience will substitute.
  • You do not, however, sign a contract when you go to work in a lab. If, after a semester or two, you feel the work or the particular laboratory environment is not right for you, you are under no obligation to continue.
  • Reconsider seeking a lab experience if your only purpose is to add it to your resume. Few research supervisors will welcome a student who is not willing to become fully engaged in the research process.
  • Start your lab experience as early in your undergraduate career as you can. If you enter a laboratory your freshman year, you could know as much about the research there as any graduate student in the lab by the time you graduate. On the other hand, don't expect to get very much out of a laboratory experience that you begin your senior year.
  • Don't feel that you need to have taken all or most of your biology courses before venturing into a laboratory. It's better to start early knowing less than to start too late knowing more.
  • You should expect to spend at least 6 and as much as 12 hours per week in the laboratory. Any less than that, and you and your research supervisor(s) will be unsatisfied.
  • You will be given keys to the laboratory and the building, oftentimes along with the privilege of spending as much time in the laboratory as you want. You are becoming a member of the research group and don't be surprised if your name gets added to the list posted by the laboratory door out in the hallway.
  • At first, you will be more or less a spectator. It takes considerable time to gain a working knowledge of the biology of the system under study, the questions being pursued by the particular laboratory group you have joined, the experimental techniques applied to obtain the data and the procedures, statistical or otherwise, used to analyze the data.
  • You may be asked to 'shadow' a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow. That is, you will watch what they're doing, learn as they explain it to you and ask them questions to fully understand the work in progress.
  • You will be expected to keep regular hours in the laboratory. If you are helping a graduate student or postdoc with experiments, they will be counting on you to be present at agreed-upon times. Take your commitment seriously.
  • You will be expected to keep a laboratory notebook. Write everything down. Keep it organized. Without the documentation it will provide you and your supervisors, it's as if you weren't there at all.
  • In time, you will be entrusted with more independent work, perhaps less and less directly connected and supervised by the P.I., graduate students or postdocs. But don't expect to enter this stage in the first semester or even the first year.

Getting Paid for Summer Laboratory Work

You can continue your research laboratory experience through the Summer by applying for a stipend from one of several sources that provide such funding. You will be required to submit a proposal in which you provide details of the research you expect to perform during the Summer. The faculty member and/or graduate student or postdoc with whom you want to work can help you prepare such a proposal.

Please contact the Integrative Biology Advising Office for information about summer funding for undergraduates.

  • If you wish to get paid for research work in the Summer, regardless of whether you have been working in the lab during the Fall/Spring academic year or are newly entering in Summer, you should approach your professor directly and ask if it is possible for you to obtain Summer support off of her or his research grant(s). Some research programs can offer this, but many cannot. You won't know unless you ask. And if such support is not available, then by all means ask your professor what other sources you might tap to cover you during a Summer of laboratory or field research.
  • How to Find a Laboratory in Which to Work

    Many research laboratories on the UIUC campus welcome undergraduate researchers, although few overtly advertise it. Your best sources of information about such labs are among the following:

    1. Talk to professors or TAs in your biology courses. Either can give you information about which laboratories might be accepting undergraduate researchers, and what kind of work goes on in those laboratories. A TA can sometimes provide candid information about the particular environment and personalities in various lab groups, information that is unlikely to be available from other sources.
    2. Surf the web. Scan through the list of faculty in the department and read descriptions there of the various laboratories' research programs.
    3. Consult the SIB or MCB advising offices, in person or via their websites, for information they have regarding laboratories currently accepting undergraduate researchers.
    4. Once you have identified a few laboratories that sound interesting to you, email the professor in charge, asking (a) if she/he is accepting undergraduate researchers at this time (if not now, then in the future?) and, if so (b) can you make an appointment to meet and discuss your working in the lab. Don't feel pressured to say "yes" to the first opening available. Make your decision after appropriate consideration of your options and prospects.

    Graduation with Distinction

    A valuable benefit of your participation in laboratory research is the opportunity it affords you to graduate "with Distinction". Distinction is awarded at three levels, Distinction, High Distinction and Highest Distinction, these designations and additional awards (some monetary) being determined by the School committee (SIB or MCB) that reads and evaluates the Distinction papers submitted by graduating students. See the Distinction Requirements for SIB and MCB for details.

    Other sites of interest: