Undergraduate Research


Many undergraduate students in the Integrative Biology major carry out undergraduate research. IB offers students the opportunity of participating in the research being conducted in the laboratories of its faculty members and other affiliated researchers. This may involve anything from collecting data in the field to doing experiments in the lab. It may involve assisting a faculty member, postdoc, or senior graduate student with ongoing experiments or may involve independent research no one has ever undertaken before. 

Why should I pursue research? 

Students conducting research in the Fischer lab

The best reason is that it will give you unparalleled insight into the methods used to generate all that information presented to you in formal classes. It will also give you an opportunity to become part of the scientific process itself. Here are some additional reasons:

  • Research 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.
  • Research can help you decide whether or not you are truly interested in - and have the disposition for - a postgraduate career in biological research.
  • 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.
  • You may be able to present your research results at a scientific gathering on or off campus. Such an experience is invaluable and, needless to say, would be a solid addition to your resume.
  • You can write up your results and apply for graduation with Distinction in Integrative Biology. (You can work in a laboratory outside of your major school or department and still submit a Distinction report to IB.)
  • With some luck and a lot of hard work, you could become a co-author on a scientific publication.

Please refer to the menus below for more information and resources on how to get started, find and apply to a lab, how to get course credit, and more! 

Undergraduate Research FAQ

Can I earn credit for undergraduate research? 

You can earn academic credit for your research by signing up for IB 290, IB 390, or IB 490 (see Research Courses below). You must have the approval of the faculty member in whose laboratory you will work before doing this. The faculty member will discuss with you an appropriate number of credit hours to sign up for.

You can also graduate with distinction by presenting your work (see details below), or consider applying for a Distinguished Undergraduate Researcher Certificate through the Office of Undergraduate Research.

How can I find a laboratory in which to work?

There are many ways to select a laboratory in which to work. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Consider registering for IB 290 where you can get matched with a faculty member and learn about the process of undergraduate research.
  • You should start by thinking about the kinds of topics that really interest you. Do you prefer field work or laboratory work? Are you interested in work that addresses questions at the molecular or cellular level or work that is more systems-oriented?
  • Send an email to the professor(s) whose lab(s) you are interested in joining. It is certainly permissible to send an email to more than one professor at a time, but you should make your email specific to each person rather than sending a generic "Hi, I'm interested in working in your lab" message. Show that you know something about the person's work and indicate why you're interested in it.
  • Talk to other students in the lab to find out what the place is like to ensure it is a good fit for you.
Can I work in a lab outside of IB?

Recognize that you can work in the lab of a professor who may not have a primary appointment in one of the SIB departments (Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior, Entomology, Plant Biology). Please see below for a more detailed discussion of working with non-SIB faculty or non-faculty researchers.

Where can I find summer research opportunities?

There are many opportunities for students to take part in research projects in the summer, both on campus and off. Check out our Undergraduate Support page for details on our summer research internships in IB. 

What can I expect?

You can expect a lot of hard work and, with that and a little luck, the exhilaration of making a discovery no one else in the world has made. In practical terms, you can expect to earn 1-4 hours of credit in a semester and work from a few to more than 10 hours per week in a laboratory. The credit hours you earn and the hours you are expected to put in will be determined by the faculty member in whose laboratory you will work. You should discuss these matters when you first talk to the faculty member.

What will my supervisor expect of me?

The person supervising your project will expect you to show the same dedication to the project you work on as the graduate students and others in the lab do. This may mean coming in to the lab or going to the field at odd hours, including nights and weekends if required. It may mean attending lab meetings with other members of the laboratory. It will certainly mean reading primary research articles related to the research and learning the scientific basis of the research you are conducting.

Can I get paid to do research?

Yes and no. Some laboratories hire undergraduates as paid assistants, but you should not expect the same kind of experience as an assistant as you would have doing independent research. Furthermore, if you are a paid assistant, you will not receive academic credit for your research. On the other hand, it may be possible for you to obtain financial assistance while you are doing independent academic research. Check out the SIB undergraduate support web page for more details. The Office of Undergraduate Research also provides options for research funding

Graduation with Distinction

To provide recognition of senior students in the Integrative Biology major who have demonstrated excellence in research while maintaining overall academic excellence, the School of Integrative Biology awards graduation honors of "Distinction for Excellence in Research" in three categories based on quality of research: DistinctionHigh Distinction, and Highest Distinction

The level of Distinction will be determined by the SIB Distinction Committee based on the written thesis, the oral or poster presentation, and the Advisor’s evaluation. The final transcript and diploma note if a student earned distinction and at what level.

To learn more, visit the Distinction for Excellence in Research page

Research Courses: IB 290, IB 390, IB 490

IB 290: Introduction to Undergraduate Research in Integrative Biology (2 hours)

Many students want to get involved in an undergraduate research project, but simply don't know where to start! IB Faculty are offering a course to help students do just that. Students work in small groups in a research lab, where the faculty member teaches common skills for success in any research project. Students are also part of a weekly seminar including readings of primary research and presentations from other students. It's a great way to get some experience doing research!

IB 390: Undergraduate Research Experience (0 - 5 hours)

IB 390 is the basic introductory research course designed to give students exposure to a research laboratory. Students work under the supervision of faculty and graduate students to contribute to the lab's ongoing research projects. IB 390 is graded S/U.

IB 490: Independent Study (1 - 5 hours)

IB 490 is an independent project that a student undertakes to gain experience in designing and completing a research project. Students must have already gained basic research lab experience before beginning a 490 project. This course requires a report to be submitted during the last semester, which is graded. This report may be submitted for graduation with Distinction, but this is not required. IB 490 is for a traditional letter grade.

Guidelines and Useful Terms

Guidelines: Scientific Process

A flow chart of the steps used in scientific inquiry with a concrete example of one complete inquiry.

Glossary: Scientific Process

All the ‘jargon’ used in the scientific process, including those involved with hypothesis testing, experimental design, figures, and statistics.

Guidelines: Library Search

Simple set of steps to take to do an electronic search for literature for your project.

Guidelines: How to Read a Graph

A beginner’s primer: 3 basic steps to follow in learning to describe and interpret scientific graphs.

Making Figures and Doing Statistics in Excel 2016

A step-by-step guide for how to make a figure and complete a statistical analysis using Excel 2016 for Mac.

Guidelines: Basic Statistics

Includes explanation and formula for use in descriptive statistics (mean, standard deviation, range) and these analytical statistics: t-text, Chi-square (contingency test), correlation, regression, ANOVA.

How to Choose Among Statistical Tests

  • Criteria to use in selecting the statistical test appropriate for your experimental design.

Statistical Test Flow Diagram

  • A hierarchical flow diagram to use in selecting the appropriate statistical test to use.
Guidelines: Writing an Abstract

Hints to use in writing an abstract, including its six basic components; an example is given.

Guidelines: Writing a Scientific Manuscript

Detailed instructions on how to write Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion, and format to use for Literature Cited of a scientific manuscript. When beginning to write an entire paper, start here to see all the steps and details to follow.

Guidelines: A Sample Manuscript - Word Document

A complete manuscript is here, together with pointers highlighted at the side of many parts.

Guidelines: Oral Presentation

Hints on how to create and deliver a successful 15-minute oral presentation.

Guidelines: Leading a Formal Discussion

Guidance for how to lead the discussion of a scientific paper.

Guidelines: Making a Poster

A detailed guideline for making a poster- including tips on design and formatting and tips for clearer content.

Poster Template - PDF Document

A simple visual template for making a poster - with directions and tips for each component.

Joining a Research Lab

Finding a Lab

Peruse your options

Review Faculty Profiles - There are many ways to find a lab on and off campus. If your research project does not involve an SIB faculty member, please be sure to consult the Advisor-of-Note accordion below. 

You might start by considering collaborating with faculty from these units/institutes:

Review faculty websites
  • Faculty usually have their own lab webpage, with their research interests and research team.
  • If there is no link through the departmental website, do a quick Google search
Keep track of what you like
  • Quickly eliminating labs or fields you don't want to study will make the next steps a lot easier, as will keeping track of what you liked and didn't like about your top choices
  • Don't forget to save the links to the faculty websites of your top choices!

Deciding on a Lab

As you look for a research lab, keep these questions in mind:
  • Why are you interested in gaining research experiences?
  • What skills will this add, that you don’t already have?
  • What do you want to be doing in a research group?
  • What kind of a working environment do you want or need?
  • Why this area of science?
  • Why this particular lab?
  • What in particular makes you excited about the work, and what can you bring/add? 
  • How does this advance your short and long term goals?
Decide what matters to you
  • Do you want to work in the field or in a lab?
  • Are you interested in macro or micro level questions? Ecosystem or cell first?
  • Do you want to work in a big or small lab?
Ask a current student questions
  • What are their duties?
  • How do they balance their classes and lab work?
  • Do they work on independent projects?
  • Do they work with the grad students or the professor?
After you've made contact with a researcher, consider the following:
  • What do you think their expectations are of you, and of themselves?
  • What do you want to get out of this experience? How could you make that happen?
  • Are you clear on the course credit and/or graduation with distinction options available to you? 

Applying to a Lab

Craft a professional email
  • Address the professor formally, and as Dr. or Professor - e.g. "Dear Dr. Smith,"
  • Include specifics about who you are, why you want to join their lab, and what you would add to the research group
  • Reference some of the research you did - what did you like about their lab that made you reach out to them specifically?
  • TAILOR each of your emails to that specific professor's research group and interests
  • Sign the email formally, with your full name - e.g. "Sincerely, John Smith"
Focus on your strengths
  • Don't worry about not having enough lab experience - focus on the skills and experiences you do have. How could those help you to be trained in lab techniques?
  • Convey your excitement for the lab and the position, and why it's a good fit for you
Enlist a second set of eyes
  • Ask for feedback from a fellow student, graduate student, or teaching assistant
  • Visit the Writers Workshop or Career Center for more writing/editing resources.

Working with Non-SIB or Non-Faculty Researchers (Obtaining an Advisor-of-Note)

Most SIB students who sign up for research for academic credit (IB 390 or IB 490) plan to work in the laboratory of an SIB faculty member.  However, faculty in many non-SIB departments also conduct biological science research. All the departments in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the Departments of Animal Science, Community Health, Nutrition, Crop Science, Civil Engineering, Natural Resources and Environmental Science, and others have faculty who conduct research in which an IB student may have an interest.

If you want to work with a faculty member outside of SIB, you must have an "advisor of note" in an SIB department before you begin your research. You obtain such an advisor in the following way:

Write a research proposal:

You and your prospective research supervisor must develop a research proposal. You write a 2- or 3-page statement that describes the following:

  1. Introduction:
    • Background (what gave rise to the study?)
    • General statement of what the study involves
    • Hypothesis being tested (What questions are you addressing?)
    • Significance of work
  2. Methods:
    • Study system
    • General methods to be used
  3. Anticipated results
  4. Your preparation for conducting the research

When you are done with your proposal:

  • Email the proposal to Dr. Brian Allan, the Associate Director for Academic Affairs in the School of Integrative Biology
  • The Associate Director consults with the Head of the SIB department most closely related to the proposed research.
  • The department head recommends a departmental faculty member (the "advisor of note") to examine the proposal, the credentials of the proposed research supervisor, the time that the student will spend on the project, etc. That faculty member is responsible for certifying the academic worth of the project you wish to undertake and will negotiate with the research supervisor on how much academic credit will be assigned for the project. The student will enroll for IB 390 or IB 490 credit under the call number of the "advisor of note," for the agreed upon hours of credit. When you have finished and written up your research, the "advisor of note" will read your final report and, based upon the report and a written critical evaluation from your research supervisor, will assign the IB 390/IB 490 grade for the project.
  • If you wish to submit the written report to the Integrative Biology Distinction Committee to be considered for graduation with distinction in the Integrative Biology major, you must arrange to have your "advisor of note" submit a letter of approval and to have your research supervisor submit a letter of evaluation of your project to the Distinction Committee.

It is your responsibility to inform the SIB office of the name and contact information of your research advisor so that person can receive notices about distinction deadlines that are routinely sent out to SIB faculty.