Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Getting Involved in Research: Juniors and Seniors


All interested students who possess at least a 3.0 grade point average in biology courses (waived for students who have a strong commitment to research or who have shown improvement in their course work) and are preparing to enter their junior or senior year, should consult members of the Department regarding research opportunities that can lead to Independent Study.

Please consider that Professors are most eager to work with students who (1) are intellectually curious (and thus not just seeking a line on their resume) and (2) are interested in their specific research. With that in mind, students are encouraged to target their inquiries to specific professors that work in areas of interest to the student rather than simply inquire broadly to all faculty.

Keep in mind that both faculty and students invest a lot in doing research. Working with research students requires investing precious time and often money. Thus, faculty are choosy about who they do research with. At the same time, students should also make good choices about the faculty that they work with. They should choose a professor who can help the students gain both research experience and practical skills. Students deserve good mentoring from professors, while professors deserve intellectual investment and hard work from students. 

The first step is to become familiarized with the area of research of each professor. You can find more information here. Each faculty member has a webpage that outlines faculty areas of interest and lists of publication. Many of us provide pdf versions of our publications. Glance through some of these to get a feel for the research questions, study organisms and techniques that we use.

After you’ve determined a subset of professors that overlaps with your areas of interest, students often send an email inquiring about research possibilities. In your email, indicate your goals for getting involved in research and what specifically about their research is interesting to you. A general inquiry email stating you’d like to do research is less likely to stir the interest of the faculty member. If they have the space and time to incorporate you into their lab, most faculty will ask to meet with you to personally.

There are four general ways to get involved in doing research with professors: 

1. Independent study (Bio 490 for Seniors, Bio 390 for Juniors). Because only two semesters of independent research are counted towards the major, most students do this as seniors. However, many do at least one semester of Bio 390 their Junior year as well, but are sure to get sufficient electives to fulfill the major. Independent study is student-driven research where students work with faculty to develop and test their own research question. Most independent study students have spent previous time with the research advisor to develop familiarity with the research conditions and techniques through one of the opportunities below. 

2. A paid position. These positions are generally supported by a grant that a professor has obtained. The student would work directly on an aspect of the professor's research. If this is available, this a great way to gain experience and training to prepare you for an excellent Bio 490.

3. A summer Hackman scholarship. These are summer research experiences working directly with professors. A majority of students do these between Junior and Senior years, though many are Hackman Scholars between Sophomore and Junior year. A summer as a Hackman often sets the stage for independent research. 

 4. Volunteering. Volunteering is a good way to gain experience, get to know a professor’s research, and to develop a relationship with a professor. Volunteers often assist other more senior students in their independent research. More information on volunteering.