Research Experiences in Biology for First Year Students and Sophomores

Many students are drawn to F&M in general and the Biology Department in particular because of an interest in research.  Indeed, students frequently point to a semester or year long independent research project as the highlight of their undergraduate careers.  The experiences gained through research provide long-term benefits that simply can’t come in the classroom and are valuable to anyone regardless of whether they continue on with a career in research.

The best way to begin gaining research experience is to assist others in the field or lab on their research projects.  As a research assistant, you will serve as an extra pair of hands to help things go more smoothly.  At the same time, the experience will provide opportunities to interact with faculty and students in biology outside of the classroom, expose you to the challenges and rewards of research, and help you determine which kinds of research are of most interest to you. 

Ideally, research assistants will be first year students and sophomores.  Although juniors and seniors are more than welcome to be assistants, they will likely be encouraged to consider independent study projects (Biology 390 and 490).  In contrast, first year students and sophomores can use these assistantships as preparation for their own independent projects that will come in the future.

Volunteering* as a research assistant during the academic year can come in two forms.  

1. Assist an independent study student or faculty member on a regular basis.  This type of assistantship will require a commitment of several hours per week to be scheduled in advance.  That way, the student/faculty researcher will be able to plan experiments knowing that you will be there to help out.

If you are interested in volunteering on a regular basis, please e-mail the faculty member(s) directly with whom you would like to work after reviewing the Biology faculty research interests and publication lists. 

2. Volunteer as an assistant on an “as-needed” basis.  Some research projects are characterized by short-term bursts of activity separated by periods of down time.  For example, greenhouse experiments can be very busy when they begin and end, but there is little to do in between.  Similarly, field-based projects often involve periodic surveys for which assistance would be greatly appreciated (if not essential).  If you are not able to commit to a set number of hours per week but are still interested in gaining research experience, we can add your name to a pool of volunteers.  You would then be contacted to check on availability and interest whenever a researcher is in need of help.

Research can be exhilarating, frustrating, rewarding, exhausting, challenging, tedious, hilarious, and depressing (sometimes all at the same time).  Although research isn’t for everyone, those who love it do so with a passion and commitment that is hard to find in other careers.  Our goal in the Biology Department is to provide you with opportunities to be involved in research, both to see what it is like and also to see if it is right for you. 

*There is no pay associated with being a research assistant.  We want the focus to be on gaining research experience. However, if you are interested in a paid position, please contact Lisa Garrett or James Engleman regarding positions as student assistants to the Laboratory Support Staff, and browse Handshake for the lastest open positions.