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Research for Undergraduates: A Guide for Faculty and Students

Undergraduates may become involved in research in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in any of three ways: volunteering in a laboratory, working for pay (e.g., as an hourly employee), or doing research for credit. The purpose of this document is to provide guidance for students and faculty for doing research for credit.

Students may do research for credit by taking one of two research courses – MICR:4161 Undergraduate Research In Microbiology, or MICR:4171 Honors Research in Microbiology. Both of these have a course prerequisite (BIOL:1411 Foundations of Biology), and may be started at any time after completion of that prerequisite. Up to four hours of credit from both courses may be applied to the course requirements for the Major in Microbiology.


Both research courses are intended to provide undergraduates with experience in execution of a research project of their own. While it is not expected that undergraduate students will be able to design such a project, it is expected that the student will participate intellectually in the execution and development of that project. It is not the purpose of these courses to provide a pair of unthinking hands to assist a PI, graduate student, or post-doc. Rather, students should understand in as much detail as possible what they are doing, why they are using their particular approach, and how what they are doing addresses an interesting and significant problem in Microbiology. They should become increasingly involved in and responsible for making decisions about how to advance the project.

Guidelines for Credit Hours:

Students may take MICR:4161 for any number of credit hours. Only four credit hours can be applied to the 21 s.h. of Microbiology courses required for the major, but up to 29 total credit hours of research can be applied to the 120 total s.h. of college credit required for the bachelor’s degree.

Students usually take MICR:4161 for 2-5 credit hours per semester. Exactly how a credit hour corresponds to time spent in the laboratory is decided upon jointly by the student and the faculty mentor, but faculty will generally expect that one credit hour will equal at least 3-4 hours spent in the laboratory. Students and faculty will also need to discuss how those hours are likely to be distributed throughout the week. Many research projects will require several significant (more than half-day) blocks of time during the week. Others may work well with a few hours each day.

Graduating with honors in Microbiology requires that students take two semesters of MICR:4171 for 3 hours each semester. Honors Microbiology is usually taken during the junior or senior year. Like MICR:4161, only four semester hours from MICR:4171 can be applied to the 21 s.h. of Microbiology courses required for the major. Students interested in graduating with honors are encouraged to take more than two semesters of research, and can register for MICR:4161 in the semesters when they don’t take MICR:4171. Students who want to do honors research should be directed to meet with the Departmental Honors Advisor (Theresa Ho) as soon as they register for MICR:4171.


Undergraduate students can be successfully mentored by faculty, post-doctoral fellows, or advanced graduate students. Ultimately, the faculty mentor is responsible for grading and evaluating student progress through the research experience. It is expected that the faculty mentor will meet regularly with the student and consult closely and regularly with the student’s immediate supervisor (graduate student or post-doc) about the student’s progress.


Both MICR:4161 and MICR:4171 are graded on an A, B, C, etc. scale rather than S/U. Students are graded on how well they have met the expectations established at the beginning of the semester - largely on whether they have invested the time and effort expected and whether they have invested intellectually in their project. Because of this, the discussion about expectations between student and faculty mentor at the beginning of the research experience is critically important. Because of the uncertainties inherent in novel research, it is not generally appropriate to grade students on success or failure in attaining a specific research objective.

Research and work/study:

It is Department of Microbiology and Immunology policy that students may not perform hourly paid work in the laboratory in which they are doing research for credit. This policy is meant to avoid any confusion or disagreement about how much of the time spent in the lab has been devoted to academic credit research and how much to their paid job.