Our faculty are invested heavily in research, and we encourage qualified undergraduates to become engaged in research projects. Research experience is valuable preparation for postgraduate education, medical school, or employment. Students initially work closely with faculty and graduate students on research projects, but are encouraged to develop into independent researchers. Independent research fosters creative thinking, develops analytical skills, and encourages teamwork.
Students interested in obtaining research experience should read through the descriptions of participating faculty and identify those individuals whose work is of interest to them. Faculty members in many departments may be engaged in relevant research; the faculty pages of the BCS Department, the Neuroscience program at the Medical Center, and the Center for Visual Science are good places to start. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience and cognitive science, a faculty researcher may be listed in more than one area.
Once a student has identified a researcher they would like to work with, they may contact that faculty member directly. Most are happy to work with undergraduates, although they may not be able to accommodate every request. Relevant coursework and some knowledge of computer programming are desirable. Students without this background may be asked to begin as observers or volunteers, progressing to more substantive work for pay or academic credit as they gain experience.
Students who wish to earn academic credit for their research must register for an independent study course. The instructor of an independent study must be a full-time member of the teaching faculty. For this reason, the principal investigator (PI) of the lab is usually the named instructor, even if a graduate student or post-doc will be the student’s direct supervisor. The departmental affiliation of the instructor determines the course number, such as BCS 395 or NSC 395. The PI’s departmental affiliation also affects the registration process. For faculty affiliated with River Campus departments or programs other than Biology (e.g. BCS, CVS, PSY), this form is used. Independent studies with Biology faculty (including NSC) and Medical Center faculty with no River Campus affiliation must use the Biology department procedures outlined here. If the faculty member has affiliations with multiple departments, the student and instructor may choose which affiliation best suits their needs.
Independent study courses such as BCS/NSC 395 may carry up to four credits. The credits are determined by the amount of work expected from the student. Typically, a student earning four credits would need to spend at least 10 hours per week in the lab for the full semester, and would need to complete a final paper on their research. Additional information on the rules and policies related to independent study courses is available from the College Center for Advising Services.
Students who have made a significant investment in independent research may be interested in pursuing a senior thesis, leading to a degree with honors in research. For BCS majors, the application deadline is in December of their senior year and the minimum GPA is 3.3. More information is available here. For Neuroscience majors, the application deadline is in March of their senior year, and the minimum GPA is 2.7. Additional information is available here.
Neuroscience majors are also eligible for the deKiewiet Summer Research Fellowships, established to provide opportunities for undergraduates in the Undergraduate Program in Biology and Medicine. These research fellowships consist of a generous stipend and University housing for 10 weeks during the summer between the junior and senior year. Fellowships are awarded on the basis of academic record, letters of recommendation, and the research proposal written by the student. A letter of intent is due in early March of the student’s junior year, with a formal application due after spring break. Additional information and application forms are available on the UPBM website.
The Center for Visual Science runs an Undergraduate Summer Fellowship Program in Vision Science. The program accepts both students from outside the University and UR students who have a strong interest in vision science.
Students who pursue BCS/NSC 395 research often are able to continue working in their labs over the summer. Summer research is a good opportunity to gain experience with a full time (40 hr/week) laboratory experience, and many students report that this experience helps them to decide on a career trajectory. Summer students are generally paid a reasonable wage for their summer work. If you are interested in a summer position, it is wise to begin looking for positions in February, as space tends to be limited and many labs fill up quickly. Most commonly, faculty hire from the students who worked in their lab during the academic year.