What are the benefits of independent undergraduate research?
In order to be "science literate" in the 21st century, isn't it sufficient to read the textbooks and take the required classes? Textbooks necessarily give a condensed and sometimes distorted impression of how science is really done. Our undergraduate research programs offer a golden opportunity for you to find out what science and biology are really all about. You will join a research team investigating an important scientific problem. You will learn to critically read the scientific literature on your chosen research topic and to formulate hypotheses. You will learn to design and carry out experiments to test the validity of your hypotheses. In short, you will actually "do science."
The range of research topics available in the Biological Sciences is bewildering. How will I ever be able to make the choice that is best for me?
A good place to begin is with the departmental WEB page, which has descriptions of each faculty member's research. More important than the research topic, however, is the compatibility between student and mentor. Learning to do science: designing experiments, mastering good laboratory techniques, analyzing data and writing reports, are skills that can be applied to any area of science and to most aspects of your life. We have a formal process designed to bring together interested student researchers and potential research mentors for the summer research program through personal interviews. In addition, many students discover research opportunities by word-of-mouth or by informally approaching individual faculty.
If I participate in the summer research program, how much interaction will I have with my mentor? Won't he or she be away for most of the summer?
Most faculty in Biological Sciences work in their laboratories during the summer, advancing their research. Faculty members participating in the undergraduate summer research program personally guide students admitted to their laboratory. Becoming an integral part of an active research group is a most rewarding experience.
Do I have to wait until after my junior year to become involved in laboratory research?
You need to have sophomore or junior standing to enroll in our summer research program.
What is the difference between the summer research program and a laboratory class? How can I be sure I won't be performing a dull, repetitive task? Since I am only a beginning researcher, what creative input will I have?
In the summer research program, you will be attempting a project where the outcome is unknown. You will get a taste of both the excitement and frustration of scientific research. Once immersed in the research project you will find that seemingly disparate concepts taught in several courses connect to produce a coherent picture for a research goal. If you are to advance your project, you must become a problem solver, and an independent learner. You will be guided in this effort by frequent discussions with your mentor and with the other members of the research group.
How does the summer research program work?
Application Process: Interested students fill out an application during the spring semester. After perusing the departmental WEB site, they list 3-4 faculty with whom they are interested in doing research. The participating faculty interview students, after which both the faculty and students rank their choices. Faculty are matched with interested students based on the rankings of both parties by a faculty committee.
Step 2: Research. The student will be assigned space and resources in the research lab. They will be provided with protocols and advice as needed by more experienced members of the research group. Expect some surprises! The data obtained in original research often do not support the hypothesis. The most interesting aspect of science is trying to figure out what the data do mean, formulating new hypotheses, and designing the experiments to test them.
Step 3: Presentation of results. Students will present the results of their research at the end of the summer in both a poster session and a symposium featuring undergraduate research.
Related Activities: A number of activities are planned to enrich the summer research experience and advance the skills of the participants. These include a journal club, in which the students take turns presenting papers from the scientific literature to the group. There are also seminars and discussions with scientists at various levels, which afford an opportunity for the student to ask questions about careers in science and how best to enter them. Social activities include picnics, tailgate and Brewers game, bowling, and frequent ice cream socials.
Stipend: Students selected to participate in our undergraduate summer research program receive a 10-week stipend.