Undergraduate Research – FAQs

“There are 3 different class options….how do I decide which one is for me?”

There 3 class options. They are tiered in difficulty and final goal.

BIOZ395 Directed 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. I don’t recommend for those serious about learning about science. 5-10 students per semester

BIOL492 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).

BIOL495 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 (MS or Ph.D, MD-Ph.D, DDS-Ph.D) bound. 10 students a year
This class has pre-reqs of BIOL392 Introduction to Research and Co-reqs of BIOL489 (fall) and BIOL490 (Spring)

“Nobody wants an undergrad in their lab.”

This is not true at all. Faculty members enjoy working along side undergraduates and believe that it is very important for the student to get hands on experience working in a lab. They want you to feel as though you are a part of their research team and they want you to enjoy and learn from your experience in the lab. In fact, most faculty members got their start as undergraduate researchers

“Do I have to be a Senior? Junior?”

No many students start as freshman or even in high school. It’s never to early or too late!

“It’s too difficult to work in a lab.”

When you work in any faculty member’s lab you are working as a member of a research team. You are not expected to know everything about a subject when working on an independent study. You are expected, however, to apply your classroom and laboratory knowledge to your project and to have done your homework before starting in the lab. You will not be “spoon-fed.” Your research team members and faculty research adviser are there to help you with any questions or concerns you may have when working in the lab, but they expect you to work hard and remember what they tell you. It is a learning experience for you as an undergraduate. Faculty research advisers want you to learn and do research, but at the same time enjoy the experience of working in a scientific setting.

“Do I have to have taken Cell Biology or Genetics or Ecology or Orgo?”

Not necessarily. Some labs may have a course they prefer you to have completed so that you have more background knowledge but mentors are very good at teaching their subject and are often just as happy to start from the very beginning.

“Do I have to register for credit or can I just volunteer?”

Many students volunteer in research labs all across VCU campuses and never register for academic credit. So no, you do not need to register. However, research experience is a very rich learning experience and it looks great on your transcript. So we encourage you to get some academic credit for the amazing work you are doing.

“Does my mentor have to be a Biology Professor?”

No! We encourage you to explore the breadth of life science being conducted at VCU and encourage you to seek out professors working on your deepest interests! Try looking on the Medical campus in our Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing.

“I registered for an independent study, am I expected to perform experiments completely by myself?”

Although the course is called “Independent Study”, it is not a truly independent research experiment. You will never be forced to perform long, arduous, difficult tasks or research by yourself. You are usually given simple tasks initially. As you prove yourself, you will be given more responsibility and independence. Your research team members and faculty research advisers work with you throughout the entire experiment.

“I’m already taking a large course load, how would I have the time?”

Most individuals interested in taking an independent study have the idea that they will have to be in the lab from sunrise to sunset. This is a complete misunderstanding. When working on an independent study you are required to participate in lab research/activities for a minimum of six hours per week. Your schedule for working in the lab will be determined in conjunction with your research adviser, but you will need to be a very organized person.

“But don’t I need to already know how to do all that crazy lab stuff?”

No! We’ll teach you!

Do I have to do research with a Biology Faculty member on the Monroe Park Campus?”

No! We encourage you to look at faculty members all over VCU in many different biologically relevant departments. There are a lot of opportunities for research in the School of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Nursing on our MCV campus.

I have an opportunity to work on a clinical research project with an M.D. as my mentor. Is this ok?”

Yes! As long as you are collecting data and helping to interpret the results. We do not count Physician  shadowing for any form of academic credit. But pre-clinical and clinical trials can be a great alternative to bench research for those seeking medical school entry.

“Where can I find emails and lists of faculty?”

The websites can be tricky and many are organized differently. But each school will have a list of departments on its main website. Once you get to a department website you need to look for a list of faculty. This is often under the simply “Faculty” or “About the Department” or “Department Directory”. Once you find this list there should be links to that faculty member that will describe their research and contact details. Be aware these lists are not always up to date! but they are the best we have.

My class finishes at 10.50 am when should I say I can be there?”

Please be realistic, there is nothing worse than being late, it is much better to be early! If you know you will need to eat or a bathroom break include these in your calculations. If you need to walk from the Honors College to Trani give yourself 20 mins, You may see a friend on the way!
If you need to get to the MCV campus a 45 min window may be needed in case you miss the bus.

Everything you need to know about studying a BS in Biology at VCU

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