Independent Research

For many students who participate, independent research is the culmination of their undergraduate experience. You will engage in proposing hypotheses, devising ways to test them, developing experimental methods, analyzing data, and writing and rewriting your results. You will take an active part in your education by working on a research project being carried out in the laboratory of one of the Biology Department faculty. No matter what your future career, this intense intellectual experience will be superb preparation.

The Biology Department facilities in the Barshinger Life Sciences and Philosophy Building feature 12 student-faculty research laboratories, greenhouses, and animal rooms. Specialized facilities and research equipment include a liquid scintillation counter for radioisotope studies, a gas chromatograph, a fluorometer, preparative and ultracentrifuges, electrophoresis equipment, a dark room, a cold room, a DNA sequencer, a quantitative thermal cycler and controlled environment chambers. A variety of equipment is also available for terrestrial and aquatic field studies. All equipment is available to students in courses; our research students learn to use even the most complex instruments. 

To find out more about faculty research interests, and activities, explore the Biology Faculty web pages.  Here you will find descriptions of recent and ongoing research projects, and examples of work that students have done in collaboration with faculty.  If you decide that you are interested in pursuing independent research with a faculty member, there are four general ways to get involved: 

1. Independent study (Bio 490 for senior level work, Bio 390 for junior level work).  Because only two semesters of independent research are counted towards the major, most students do this as seniors.  However, some students do at least one semester of independent research in their Junior year  (while at the same time making sure to take 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.  Often, independent study students have already spent 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 an externally funded 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 390 or 490.

3. A summer Hackman scholarship. These are full-time 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, especially as a 1st or 2nd year student, 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, while learning pertinent techniques.