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Guidelines for Finding a Research Mentor

How do I find a research mentor?
  • Talk to your current science professors and your academic advisor about your interest in research and ask for their advice.
  • Ask other students about their experiences in research labs.
  • Examine the biology faculty web pages on the department web site to find projects of interest to you.
  • Contact several professors with whom you are interested in doing research to set up a meeting to talk more about possible opportunities in the lab. You should be prepared to discuss why you are interested in conducting research and what attracts you to their work. Do keep in mind that the biology department's philosophy is that we want each student to feel free to find a research home that is best suited to their interests and needs. Talking with a professor, even one that you have class with, does not obligate you to work with them.
When should I begin to look for a research mentor?

There is no right time for every student to start undergraduate research. Some students start research between their first and second year in college, whereas others start research during their junior year. If you are interested in graduate school or careers in research, you should aim to start during your sophomore year. The most important factor in when to start is that you have the time to devote to the research.

Your initial start time may depend on the lab you join: some professors prefer that students start research in the summer (see below) and others prefer that they begin during the academic year. You can ask about this when you talk with professors about research opportunities available in their labs. If you are planning to begin research in the summer, you should begin looking for a lab in December. If you are planning to begin research in the academic year, you should start ot secure a position the semester before you intend to start.

How does funding of summer research work?

Students who desire an in-depth research experience may apply for a paid summer research position with a biology professor. There are several funding mechanisms for these positions. Many students are funded from competitive School of Arts and Sciences Fellowships. Applications for these fellowships are due in early February. Other students are funded by competitive, discipline-specific fellowships through scientific societies. Finally, some students are funded through grants to their mentors from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Commonwealth Health Research Board, and Jeffress Trust. Your research mentor will discuss funding optpions with you and help you prepare any applications. It is best to contact professors by January regarding summer research funding options.

Can I get academic credit for research?

Students who have secured a research mentor may, with permission of the mentor, enroll in BIOL 350 (Undergraduate Research) or BIOL 395 (Honors Research) for .5 or 1 unit of credit respectively during the academic year. No credit will be given for summer research.