Why do undergraduate research?
Undergraduate research is a great way to prepare oneself for work or graduate study. The experience will help you increase your understanding of the scientific method by developing practical lab skills, and how to read and evaluate scientific journal articles. If you are considering a career in research, it will help you decide whether that path is right for you and help you choose between research areas. It also helps you build a "portfolio" to give an indication of your abilities and experience. And, because you will be working closely with one or two professors/researchers, this is a good opportunity for future letters of recommendation.
What will I be doing?
Doing undergraduate research for credit is based on an individual agreement between you and the professor, so the actual arrangement varies. The work outlined by your professor is designed to teach you practical skills and understand the broader scope of scientific research. Many advanced students design their own research project, but the majority of students work alongside a faculty researcher or graduate student doing a piece of an on-going project. A great research experience would comprise many components, such as, work on a specific project with a specific hypothesis, reading original scientific papers related to the research topic, performing experiments, performing data analysis or discussion of analysis with your sponsor, and writing a report or manuscript for publication.
When should I start?
The earlier the better! Too many undergraduates wait until their senior year, limiting their experience and opportunities. Many professors are happy to take on juniors, sophomores and sometimes even freshmen. The best way to find a mentor is to approach faculty that you’re interested in working with individually. You can see what they are working on by checking the Department’s faculty profiles and their personal lab web pages. You can also search for posted research opportunities through the Undergraduate Research Program (select "Biology" or other topic and Discipline Search). Every professor is different, and many are willing to take students with no prior research experience. It is a good idea to do your homework ahead of time, to learn what is going on in their labs, before contacting them. Be sure to provide a resume or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.).
The University of Washington expects students to work an average of three hours per week to receive one credit (for example three credits of research would equal about nine hours of work in the lab per week). Because arrangements vary, you will want to talk with your professor about how many credits to register for and when you would be expected to be in the lab.
How do I register for this?
Do I receive a grade for undergraduate research credits?
It depends on the home department and their policies. Undergraduate Research is offered for a grade OR Credit/No Credit. The Time Schedule will say if a class is Credit/No Credit. If it does not say anything, then it is a graded course. Please note that in this "class" you will not have a syllabus or exams. It is therefore important to ask your professor which option to sign up for, how the grade will be determined and what the criteria will be.
Will the research credits count for my major?
That depends on your major. Speak with your major adviser to find out how research credits work in your degree requirements. If you are a Biology major registered for 499 credits, you are required to submit a petition to have these credits (Max. 10) apply toward your major requirements (advanced electives). If your petition is approved and you receive at least 4 credits of research, it can count toward 1 lab requirement, as well as advanced electives. Petitions should be submitted to an adviser in Hitchcock 318 and should follow the instructions found under the "Undergraduate Research Guidelines" form. There is no set due date for a Biology major to submit their petition, but the sooner it is submitted, the sooner it will be reviewed. Additional questions should be directed toward an academic advisor in regards to this matter. (During remote instruction quarters, petitions can be emailed to a Biology adviser)
How do I find a faculty member to work with?
You should start by doing your own research on topics you’re interested in that are being researched at the UW. Read journals and other publications to help you become more knowledgeable about that field and then seek out professors who do research in your field of interest.
- If you email a professor to inquire about their lab, be sure to think about including the following pieces of information:
- Introduce yourself and state what attributes you have to offer
- Tell them what you're looking for (experience, credit, how many hours and quarters)
- Tell them why you're writing to them (their research interests you, you know someone in their lab, you were referred to them).
- Include an unofficial transcript, resume, or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.)
You should also talk to professors and TA's in your biology classes and think about taking a class or seminar course in the area of your interest.
It is a great idea to visit the Undergraduate Research Program Office on the web or in 171 Mary Gates Hall. They have a listing of professors who are interested in having students work in their labs.
What if the professor I speak with says "no"?
You will need to contact several professors before you are able to make an arrangement. When you talk with a professor who does not have a suitable project or space available in his/her lab, ask if he/she can recommend a person you could speak with next. You may have to go through a few "no's" to get to a "yes", but it only takes one yes!
Can I get paid for doing undergraduate research?
If your professor has funds to pay you, yes. The Mary Gates Research Scholarship also provides funding. In addition, there are several other ways to get a funded research position.