Research is what drives the generation of new knowledge in the biological sciences. Doing research as an undergraduate student is an excellent way to work on the frontier of the scientific endeavor, and will provide solid research experience that can benefit your future career goals. Undergraduate researchers in the Department of Biology can work on cutting edge research problems and present their results in a number of scientific forums including local, national and international meetings. Additionally, each year many undergraduates publish their results in respected journals, including Texas A&M’s Undergraduate Journal of Science, and participate in a Department of Biology Research Competition held each spring semester.
WHY PARTICIPATE IN UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH?
✔ Be the first person to discover something!
✔ Reinforce and apply concepts learned in the classroom.
✔ Gain technical and critical thinking skills.
✔ Work closely with faculty and other researchers.
How to Get Involved
There are two main ways to become involved in research. One is to enroll for credit in BIOL 291 (U1 and U2) or BIOL 491 (U3 and U4). The other is to obtain a paid position. Paid positions are less common. Also, Professors may prefer that you first work for credit then later move to a paid position once you have demonstrated your ability.
Either way, you will need to complete online lab safety training before you begin. You can complete this before you’ve decided on a lab, and you will need to complete this before you register for 291 or 491.
What’s Required on your Part?
1. Commitment and dependability. Working in a research lab is not the same as doing experiments in a lab course. The purpose of most lab courses is to teach specific skills. As such, your performance has no impact on others. Although you will gain many skills working in a research lab, your training is not the lab’s goal. In research labs, the objectives are to discover new knowledge. Your results matter to your professor, the lab group, the funding agencies, the larger scientific community, and the world. This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever have problems with an experiment, but it can’t be because you choose not to work or not to care.
2. Critical thinking and attention to details. You will be involved in original research. Therefore, there is no lab manual to follow. The lab you join will have protocols for certain techniques, but exactly what is done will vary with each experiment. You will need to think carefully about what you are doing and justify your decisions.
3. Willingness to ask questions when something doesn’t make sense. You aren’t expected to be an expert, but people are still counting on what you do. If you’re not sure how to do something, ask for help. Furthermore, if something doesn’t make sense, you may have uncovered a flaw in the original plan or hypothesis.
4. Resilience. Scientific research rarely goes exactly as planned. Be prepared to revise, repeat or change directions entirely.
In an attempt to help define the difference between independent research (BIOL 291 or BIOL 491) from directed studies (BIOL 485), Biology’s UPC has developed the following guidelines based on criteria defined by the National Science Foundation, National Academy of Science, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
- Research should be directed at original questions with open answers.
- The work should contribute to testing a hypothesis or answering a question. Furthermore, students should understand and be able to explain how their work contributes to achieving these goals.
- The work should provide new scientific knowledge with the goal of publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the creation of a resource that can be used by others (either within the lab or greater scientific community), and/or used as preliminary data in a grant proposal.
- Students should “take ownership” of their project. Elements of ownership include designing experiments, analyzing data, predicting possible outcomes, forming intelligent opinions about future directions, and conversing with others about their work.
- Experiments/work should be integrated with other scholarly activity such as reading of the scientific literature, writing, and other presentation of results.
Although the degree to which a student is involved in each of the above aspects of research will depend on ability and experience, bench or field activity is not sufficient to classify a student’s work as a research experience. Students should be encouraged and mentored to develop their “non-technical” or “non-bench” scientific skills while doing independent research.
Literature reviews/readings by themselves are not research, as they are not directed at answering original questions and are not producing new scientific knowledge. Therefore, BIOL291/491 credit should not be given for this activity. If a student spends their first semester doing a literature review, they should enroll in BIOL485. In contrast, reviewing the scientific literature and analyzing multiple data sets from different sources to generate new conclusions/knowledge is research.
Developing course material makes an excellent BIOL485 project, but it is not research unless it incorporates a study on educational impact on student learning.
FINDING A LAB
1. Browse through the Labs looking for Undergraduates (below) to obtain a list of faculty interested in taking students. You can also find out more about current faculty research interests by checking out the faculty interests page or by walking around the biology buildings (BSBE, BSBW, Butler, and ILSB) and looking at the posters on the walls. Even if a biology faculty member is not on the list of available labs, they may still be taking students.
2. After identifying labs that seem interesting, email the professors to arrange meetings. Tell them who you are, major, year in school, that you are interested in finding a lab, and why you are interested in their research. Also, give them a number of times when you would be available to meet. Give the professor a chance to respond, but after a week of no response it is OK to send a follow-up inquiry. Sometime things get misplaced or forgotten.
3. In the meeting, be prepared to explain again why you want to be involved in research. You should also have an idea of how much time you can commit to research (hours per week). Finally, you should ask about the potential projects, and most importantly, what are the professor’s expectations of you.
4. Take some time to carefully consider your options then let everyone you met with know your decision. It is perfectly OK to let someone know that you have decided to join another lab or that you realize you cannot make the necessary time commitment. A professor may have others that would like to join the lab, so again, please inform everyone.
5. Do not get discouraged if you cannot join a particular lab. There are a many of factors that a professor must consider, including the number of students already in the lab, the types of projects available, your schedule, their schedule… Keep looking.
If you are having difficulty finding a lab, contact Dr. Kathryn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biology 291/491: Independent Research
BIOL 291/491 is an independent research course supervised by various faculty members in the department (1-4 credit hours). Different professors have different requirements, but a common guideline is 3 hours per week in the lab for each hour of credit. Based on the information below, students should select their area of interest, read the Writing Requirements, download a 291/491 form here or pick up from the Undergraduate Advising Office (107 Butler), and then contact the appropriate professor to schedule a meeting to discuss their options. Upon completion of the form by the supervising professor, the student will return the form to an undergraduate advisor in 107 Butler, who can help determine how it will be used in the student’s degree plan. Up to 7 credit hours may be used in the major field of study (This varies by degree plan.). Additional credit hours (up to 11 more) may be used as general electives.
BIOL 291: For individuals of freshman or sophomore standing.
BIOL 491: For individuals of junior or senior standing.
All student researchers (for credit, paid, or volunteering) working in the Department of Biology must complete both general and laboratory-specific safety training prior to beginning research.
Completion of an online safety module, Hazardous Communication Training
Each semester, students must turn in documentation of course completion before they are allowed to enroll in BIOL 291/491. The course is accessed via the Environmental Health & Safety website here.
On the left hand side of the EH&S main page click Register for Training, then select Hazard Communication (Online). Login with your net IDs and password, select Hazard Communication Training again (it’s under the heading General), and complete this one training module. Once you have answered all questions correctly, you will receive a completion certificate via email. Students enrolling in BIOL 291/491 will need to print a copy of the certificate to submit along with the Request for Approval to Register for 291/491. No proof of completion; no enrollment. Students enrolling in 291/491 for a second semester may submit a copy of their training documentation or simply repeat the training. If it has been more than a year since the last training, you should complete the training as a refresher. If you do not remember if you have completed the course, you may call EHSD at 845-2132.
Paid student workers or volunteers should turn in their documentation to Denise Valero in BSBW 102.
Note: If you do not earn 100% scores on the quiz MUST CLEAR the browser history in order to reset the quiz. If they don’t do this, they will never be able to earn a 100% score.
Completion of lab-specific training form.
Lab Specific Safety Training
Please use this ***form*** for the training. For 291/491 students, this form must be completed and turned into the Undergraduate Advising Office by the 10th day of the semester. If a student is continuing in the same lab in consecutive semesters, this lab-specific training does not need to be repeated. However, if a student does not enroll in consecutive semesters or changes labs, they must submit a new lab-specific training form. The exception to consecutive semester is Summer. All lab-specific documentation from Spring will be carried over to the next Fall regardless of summer enrollment.
Student workers and volunteers should submit forms to Denise Valero in BSBW 102.
Additional Safety Training. Some labs require additional, specific safety training. You must complete all safety training assigned by your individual faculty.
Volunteers: Volunteering in a research lab is discouraged. Instead, students are strongly encouraged to enroll in BIOL 291 or BIOL 491 for 0 credit hours. In the very rare instance of a student volunteer (i.e., not registered for courses or receiving pay), they must complete the Volunteer Waiver Form.
LABS AVAILABLE FOR INDEPENDENT RESEARCH
|Labs Available for Independent Research|
|Faculty||Research Interest||Prerequisites/Requirements||Other Information|
|Molecular genetics and genomics of circadian clocks and signaling pathways in fungi.||Must commit to at least one year of research and must have at least a 3.2 GPA. Each student must have at least 12 hours of time to spend in the lab each week (this can include nights and weekends too). Students must present a summary of their work in our weekly lab meetings and present a poster at the Biology Undergraduate Research Poster Competition.|
|We study evolutionary genetics and genomics. The lab uses both theoretical and empirical approaches to understand basic principles of evolution. We use beetles to study how traits like male weapons evolve, and we analyze genomes to learn how differences in sex chromosomes evolve.||A commitment of at least 8 hours per week, usually in blocks of at least 2 hours. A science GPA of at least 3.2||Undergraduate majors in any of the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, computer science or mathematics are welcome to apply.|
|We study the processes of speciation and hybridization in our lab. Currently many of our projects focus on seasonal migration in birds – how it contributes to speciation and is genetically controlled. There are many ways for undergraduates to become involved in our work, from analyzing data from birds tracked on migration to molecular and bioinformatics work. We can work together to identify the best project for each student.||Preference is for sophomores and juniors with a background in Biology or a related field. We are looking for motivated students with the ability to work independently once trained. It is best if the student can commit at least 8 hours per week.|
|Cellular and molecular approaches to regenerate the nervous system and restore neurological function after spinal cord injury||Must be willing to commit at least 15 hours/week. Must have at least a 3.0 GPA||Students will have the opportunity to learn neural stem cell isolation and culture, histology and immunohistochemistry, fluorescence and confocal microscopy, image analysis, animal behavioral assessments, and/or animal surgical techniques. Animal work will require a commitment of at least 3 consecutive terms, due to the time required for training to proficiency. Students who generate data that is included in manuscripts will be given coauthorships.|
|L. Rene Garcia
|Cellular, genetic and molecular regulation of neural-muscular circuit function involved in motivated behaviors of animals.||Students must have an overall GPA greater than 3.4. Students are required to enroll into the Biology 491 class and must commit 15- 20 hours a week.||Research projects (biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, imaging, etc…) will be designed to fit the student’s interest. The more time a student can commit to the project, the more ambitious/interesting the project can be.|
|How tissue size is regulated, wound healing, and diseases such as heart and kidney failure||Besides my permission, students must commit to at least 12 hours/ week. Because some projects in the lab use human blood, students must have had hepatitis A and B vaccinations.||We use techniques from biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, and immunology; projects will be determined by a combination of what we’re doing and what the student is interested in.|
|structure and biochemical organization of cells; membrane trafficking.||Freshman, sophomores and upper classment are welcome. No prerequisites except willingness to plan and carry out work independently, once shown the techniques. You acquire understanding of the experimental system from weekly meetings and outside background or literature readings. After four credits, you may either produce a poster for the undergraduate research competition or submit an article for Exploratins, the undergraduate journal of research.||The lab has projects in biochemistry, genetics, and imaging. For one hour credit, you and perhaps a partner, will do a very narrowly-framed, but successfully thrice-repeated experiment, with an expectation that you spend three hours lab time preparing, doing and recording the experiment each week (weekends or evenings are OK once the techniques are mastered) As the number of hours increases, the time spent in the lab and the scope of the experiment increases proportionally.|
|We study how biological clocks time daily cycles in gene expression, physiology and behavior.||Must have completed BIOL 111 and 112 and CHEM 101/111 and 102/112 with a minimum grade of B, must have a GPA of 3.4 in science classes (i.e. Biology, Math, Statistics, Chemistry and Physics), must be classified as a sophomore or junior, and must be majoring in Biology, Biochemistry or Genetics.||Research projects will be determined by a combination of which graduate students and post-docs have projects that an undergraduate student can contribute to and the research interests of the student.|
|Duncan MacKenzie||Endocrinology of growth and reproduction in fish and reptiles, pituitary evolution, and the regulation of thyroid function||Students should enroll in Biology 491 and expect to spend at least three hours working in the lab for each hour of enrolled credit.||Projects include care and feeding of fish, blood and tissue sampling, hormone analysis, and molecular biological techniques such as RNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, and PCR. Introductory chemistry, biochemistry, physiology or endocrinology, flexible hours, and a commitment for at least two semesters are preferred.|
|U. J. McMahan||Factors that regulate the function and development of synapses in the nervous system of various animal species, as revealed by high-resolution imaging, chemical characterization and experimental manipulation of specific synaptic macromolecules and organelles.||Project will be tailored to student’s background and goals, but will it require 12-16hrs/week.||undergraduate majors in any of the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, computer science or mathematics are welcome to apply.|
|We study how biological rhythms (i.e., rhythms of 24hrs such as the sleep-wake cycle) are generated at the molecular level in the mouse. We are particularly interested in the mechanisms involved in rhythmic gene expression.||Student should have taken biological science classes, and must commit to at least one-year minimum of lab work and be willing to devote 12-15 hours per week (but flexible hours).||Students must be willing to work with mice.
Students will be trained to perform genotyping and basic molecular techniques and then work on an independent research project.
|We study how biological clocks time the seasonal migratory behavior and physiology of monarch butterflies and seek to understand the underlying genetic basis using integrative approaches from genes to behavior.||Motivated students classified as sophomore or junior, with solid background in biological science and chemistry and a GPA above 3.2 are encouraged to apply. Students are expected to make at least a 1-year commitment and work 15hr per week in the lab including evenings and weekends as needed.||Students will first learn monarch husbandry techniques and advance to molecular biology and/or behavior to study the role of the circadian clock in the seasonal migration of monarch butterflies. The projects will be tailored whenever possible to the interest of the students.|
|The lab uses super-resolution microscope to understand fundamental functions of bacterial cells, such as cell wall synthesis, cytoskeleton assembly, cell motility, development (fruiting body formation), etc.||Sophomores and juniors with a GPA greater than 3.2, completed Microbiology and Molecular Biology, capable of molarity calculations, and willing to make a one-year commitment in research. Students are expected to commit 15-20 hours in the lab each week.||Students will learn basic microbiology, molecular biology, cell biology, and possibly also protein chemistry techniques. Motivated and successful students will coauthor research papers. The lab is currently building a super-resolution PALM microscope, which will give students the opportunity to learn advanced imaging and biophysics techniques. Since this is a new lab, the PI will train students directly. Join the lab, and let’s grow along together!|
|Ciliogenesis and Intraflagellar Transport in Chlamydomonas and C. elegans||Preference is for students who can spend an average of at least 12 to 15 hours per week in the lab, and take two consecutive semesters of 491 research.||Students will first get training in general laboratory techniques. After essential skills are developed, students will select independent research projects.|
|Through genetic analysis of zebrafish embryos, we study early development of the inner ear and other sensory organs of the head.||Students should expect to spend 15-20 hours per week in the lab and be willing to work evenings and weekends as needed. I ask undergraduate students to commit to working at least 2 semesters.|
|Evolutionary biology of sexual communication using swordtail fish as a model system.||Interest in a career in basic scientific research. If you’re committed to going to professional school, you are probably better off in a biomedical laboratory. A minimum commitment of 9 hours per week for two semesters is required. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors only please.||Students will start by learning the basics of animal husbandry (fish care), behavioral trials, and molecular techniques; then, in the second or third semester of their stay in the lab, will work with graduate students and PI to develop an independent research project such as an Undergraduate Research Scholars thesis. Students will be exposed to a variety of behavioral, morphological and genetic techniques and will have the opportunity to participate in field research at the CICHAZ field station in central Mexico.|
|Nuclear envelope structure and function with a focus on nuclear pore complex assembly and dynamics||Students at all levels will be considered, but preference will be given to those who can work at least two semesters. In order to conduct meaningful research, students should plan to spend at least 10-12 hours a week in lab in approximately 2-4 hour blocks. Once trained, this could include evenings and weekends. Must have successfully completed the first semester of chemistry and be able to do basic molarity calculations.||Each student will gain experience in a variety of molecular, cell biological and genetic techniques while being responsible for carrying out an independent project on some aspect of nuclear pore complex assembly. It is expected that undergraduate researchers will become a fully integrated members of the lab.|
|Regulation of eukaryotic gene expression focused primarily on post-transcriptional control; functional analyses of fungi at the genome level|
|Early stages of Clostridium difficile pathogenesis. Mechanisms of bile acid resistance and spore germination||Students must have taken some biological science and chemistry and are familiar with basic chemical calculations. Students are expected make at least a 1 year commitment and work 15 – 20 hours / week including evenings and weekends as needed. Students will interview prior to acceptance into the lab.||We are seeking highly motivated and independent sophomores and juniors to study mechanisms of C. difficile spore germination and bile acid resistance. Students will learn basic microbiological techniques (sterile technique, anaerobic culturing, gene cloning, PCR) and, after proper training, work on an independent project.|
|Investigation of how metabolites are moved between compartments of a plant cell, the physiological roles of different types of plastids and determinants of leaf size.||A commitment of 8-12 hours per week, usually in 3-4 hour
segments is required. Completion of Biol 213 strongly encouraged.
|Duties: Students carry out genetic crosses, harvest seed for
segregation analyses, conduct PCR-based genotyping, assist with
phenotypic screens of plant mutants, and participate in general lab
maintenance. Some students have also been involved in mutant screens,
gene cloning projects, enzymatic assays and generation of transgenic