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Frequently Asked Questions

undergraduate research

What is undergraduate research in the Biology Department?
How is the undergraduate research program structured?
How do I get involved?
What if there are no positions?
Are there lab alternatives to undergraduate research?
Is it possible to go abroad and still do undergraduate research at BC?
Is it possible to do undergraduate research for just one year?
Can I start working in a lab before my junior year?

What is undergraduate research in the Biology Department?
Undergraduate research is a student research activity, fully supervised, in the laboratory of a faculty member. A student’s specific involvement in a project will evolve over time, starting first with learning lab techniques and eventually to include designing experiments and helping with the general activities of a laboratory.


How is the undergraduate research program structured?

Undergraduate research is a 3 credit course that requires the permission of the supervising faculty member. Typically, students begin pursuing research during the fall semester of their Junior year and continue through the spring semester of their Senior year. A truly useful research experience will often require a minimum of 15 hours/week effort, and some faculty will require students to work in the lab over the summer (there are various types of financial support for summer work, which may be available). The time commitment may increase as the student assumes more responsibility for designing experiments and generating data. One semester of undergraduate research will satisfy the 2 credits of additional laboratory coursework required for the Biology major. Two additional semesters may also be substituted for one Biology elective, with permission from the Biology Department.


How do I get involved?
Ultimately, you will need to make contact with an individual faculty member who will agree to supervise you in his or her laboratory. In the beginning, however, it is helpful to do a little research of your own. Check out the research activities of the faculty on the Biology web site or pick up a Biology Research Bulletin in the Biology Department Office and begin to broadly identify your interests. You might see a pattern in scientific approach that interests (e.g., genetics, molecular biology, or biochemistry) or you may be drawn to areas of with a common theme (e.g., disease, neuroscience, cell cycle, bioinformatics). However, you should only use this survey as an initial guide. In the end, what you would like to find is an environment that will be a good match for your interests, your passion, and your personality. So, contact a number of professors, visit their labs and talk to your peers. You should never hesitate to contact a professor whose program looks particularly interesting to you.


What if there are no positions?
It is true that labs do fill up. But, they don’t remain full forever, and they don’t fill up for years in advance. There is constant turnover in undergraduate researchers with each new academic year. The key here is to begin your pursuit of a lab early and whole-heartedly. In general, students who begin the process in a timely manner (e.g., spring of your Sophomore year, for placement during fall of your Junior year), and are committed to pursuing this activity are more than likely to find a position. Students who wait until drop/add of the Junior year may find that all of the positions have been filled.


Are there lab alternatives to undergraduate research?
The most common alternative to undergraduate research is to enroll in one of the department's 3-credit advanced laboratory courses.  These courses offer students the opportunity to design and conduct original research projects.  Any one of these courses fulfills both the advanced lab requirement for the biology major and an upper-division elective requirement.


Is it possible to go abroad and still do undergraduate research at BC?

Yes, it is possible, but it may limit the number of BC laboratories in which you could work. The technical training in some fields is quite extensive and a full two years may be deemed necessary to make sufficient progress on a particular project. But, with careful planning you and your research adviser could work out a plan that could accommodate both. This is highly individual and most likely will need to be worked out in advance.


Is it possible to do undergraduate research for just one year?
Yes it is possible, but again, it may limit the number of laboratories in which you could work.


Can I start working in a lab before my junior year?
Certainly. Simply begin the process of identifying a lab as soon as possible and discuss the appropriate time frame with the faculty member in whose lab you would want to work.