Finding and Registering for Research Opportunities

Any undergraduate can do research! It doesn’t matter if you are a first-semester freshman or a final semester super senior there are opportunities that available to you.

Sometimes professors advertise open research positions either via the work-study, the Biology facebook page, the opportunities tab on this website or via the VCU UROP office. But most mentors are found by so-called “cold calling” where you just send an email to someone you don’t know asking if they have any space (this is totally normal! don’t be scared!).

All you need to do is find a “research adviser.” You do not need to design your own project!

  1. Pick an area of the Biological Sciences that interests you. This might be in the Biology department: where we have research opportunities in ecology; evolution and systematics; molecular genetics, cell biology and physiology; or perhaps you prefer the Life Sciences: biological complexity; environmental studies;  or Engineering;  Many biology majors choose to step outside the Monroe Park campus and reach out to professors on the MCV campus for opportunities in Biomedical Research use this tab to explore different research areas in the School of Medicine (TIP: the links are broken but just scroll down the page). The School of Medicine hosts 8 basic science departments. All have faculty eager to engage and teach undergraduates: Anatomy and NeurobiologyBiochemistry and Molecular BiologyBiostatisticsHealth Behavior & PolicyHuman and Molecular Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology,
    Pharmacology and ToxicologyPhysiology and Biophysics; Along with the schools of Dentistry; Pharmacy; Nursing, and the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics  etc. For example, John Doe is interested in cell biology. All are open to Biology majors working in their labs!
  2. Browse the web pages of these research areas. Find faculty webpages and read about their work.
  3. Pick about 5-10 faculty members whose research interests you.

John Doe discovers that he is interested in the research that John Ryan and Robert Tombes conduct.

  1. Send a polite email requesting an appointment with to discuss the possibility of working in that faculty member’s lab. Remember researchers often want a minimum of 10 hours of your time (typically between 9-5 and on weekdays). Be clear immediately when you are available. If this faculty member has time/money/space to take you into their group and feels like you would be a good match they may offer you a position. This faculty member will then become your faculty research advisor and he or she will help you design a research project. Advice on how to write that email…..
    Email etiquette for students

John Doe makes an appointment with Dr. Tombes. When they meet, Mr. Doe brings a resume and a copy of his transcripts. Dr. Tombes is so impressed with Mr. Doe’s preparation and interest that Dr. Tombes decides that Mr. Doe can work in his lab. They begin to design a research project involving the expression of different CaM kinases in mouse embryonic stem cells.

  1. After choosing your advisor think about whether you would like to register for academic credit.BIOZ/L395 Directed Study is a 2 credit pass/fail class where the expectations are very low. No real data is needed. Usually used by younger students, or those about to graduate who desperately need one extra lab.5-10 students per semester is a 1-4 credit A-F class single semester class where the students are expected to put together a final report in the format of a paper. This is the most popular option 30-40 students per semester.  Two credits of BIOL492 counts as a lab requirement. BIOL492 also counts for the Biology capstone requirement. Up to 6 credits of BIOL492 can be used towards your Biology major (can only count for 1 lab). is the year-long class where the students write a thesis, poster and oral. Typically students only join this class if they have been working in the lab prior to the semester beginning. This is the hardest option and best for those that are graduate school bound. 10 students a year
    This class has pre-reqs of BIOL392 Introduction to Research and Co-reqs of BIOL489 (fall) and BIOL490 (Spring) and can only be joined in the fall.
  2. Once you have found a mentor and agreed which class you are going to join you must complete the Research-Based Classes Registration Request
    Once you have completed this, your mentor must send an email to Dr. Golding confirming that they agree to mentor you I will approve the override.
    You will then (it can take a while, but no worries we have through add/drop to do this) receive an email from bioadvising telling you that you can register by typing in the CRN number.
    Once you are registered you will receive access to the Bb site (can take 24 hrs) for the course where you will be provided with directions on when to submit assignments etc. Details and deadlines for all assignments can be seen on the syllabus above.

    John Doe successfully registers for BIOL 492

  3. Determine a schedule with your research adviser for when you will be working in the lab. Remember the time that you will work in the lab depends on the number of credits your independent study is worth (1 credit = 3-4 hrs/week in the lab. I.e. Your independent study is worth 2 credits, you would work two days a week for approximately 3-4 hours a day.)

John Doe talks with Dr. Tombes and they agree that John will work in the lab on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1 –- 4 p.m. Thus, John’s independent study is for 2 credits.

  1. Once you are registered for class you will see the Bb for said class. All directions about the class will be issued via Bb. Within the first 3 weeks of the semester, you need to submit a proposal of your research project to the Blackboard.

John Doe develops a proposal with the help of his research adviser and turns it into Blackboard.

  1. At the end of the semester, you submit a final report of your research project to Blackboard.

John Doe successfully completed his research in Dr. Tombes’ lab and turned in a final report to Blackboard.

Frequently asked questions about getting engaged in Research…


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