Student Guide to Undergraduate Research

Finding a research lab for MICR:4161 or MICR:4171:

One of the critical components to success in any research experience is enthusiasm. When looking for a research lab, you should be guided mainly by your interest in the research in the laboratory. You can get a general idea about your subject of interest (immunology, bacteriology, virology, etc.) from your introductory courses or from current events or popular science news. You can then get information about specific faculty research interests by looking at the faculty list on the Department of Microbiology and Immunology web site . It’s a good idea to make a list of four or five faculty members whose research interests you and then to e-mail those faculty members one at a time, introducing yourself and indicating your interest in doing research for credit in their laboratory. Faculty will then respond indicating their ability or willingness to take a student for mentoring. Not all faculty will be able to mentor a student in a given semester because their labs may be full, they may be away, or for any number of other reasons. If the first response is negative, don’t be discouraged. Move on to the next name on the list. If the faculty member is willing, he/she will suggest a meeting to discuss the potential research project and to discuss expectations. During this process, you should be aware that faculty will often be more enthusiastic about mentoring students who are willing to commit more time to the experience, and who are interested in doing research for more than one semester.

Meeting with your faculty mentor:

During the first meeting with your mentor, you should discuss the possible project(s). It is absolutely critical that you come to an understanding about the faculty member’s expectations for the experience. This should include a clear understanding about how much time you should spend on research and how that time may be distributed during the week. You should also discuss who will be responsible for day-to-day supervision and training for your research. This person may not be the faculty member. It will often be a research fellow (pre- or post-doctoral). If someone other than the faculty member will be your supervisor, you should also meet that person.

If you and your mentor come to an agreement, then you will need to register for the research course. You will need your mentor’s instructor number for this, so remember to get that information.

You should expect to meet regularly with your faculty mentor and your immediate research supervisor. At these meetings (which may be casual or more formal), be prepared to discuss your progress, problems, and ideas about your research.

Doing research:

Every research project is different, but there are a few things you should know that are common to most.

  1. You will not be thrown into the lab to sink or swim. You will be trained in the procedures you need to begin your project. This will always include appropriate safety training. As your project proceeds, you may need to learn new techniques that are not already in the laboratory, but this will not happen until you are ready for them.
  2. You will be expected to keep a laboratory notebook. Labs differ in how notebooks are kept, and you must discuss with your mentor how yours will be formatted and maintained.
  3. You will certainly be expected to attend, and will probably be expected to present at, regular meetings of the laboratory.
  4. Most experiments involve some amount of time when you are in the lab, but your hands are not actually busy with your research. Examples are incubation periods for enzymatic reactions, periods for growth of bacteria or viruses, etc. This would be a good time for study related to your research or for your classes. Taking research for 4 hours of credit and being in the lab 15 hours a week may sound intimidating, and you may wonder how it can fit in with your study demands. If you use your time in lab wisely, you will find that it can be the most productive study time you have.
  5. You will be doing novel research. That means that no one will ever have done exactly what you are doing before, and that often things will not work the first time (or sometimes the second, or the third). Remember that no experiment has utterly failed if you learned something (even if that something is only how not to do the experiment).