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Undergraduate Research

Open up your career opportunities by participating in undergraduate research.

What does it mean to be involved in research?

There are many answers to this question. At one end of the spectrum you might “shadow” someone in the lab or the field for a day, while at the other end of the spectrum you could work closely with a faculty member to develop, implement and publish your own independent research. As in most things, you get out what you put in. Most faculty will want to establish your commitment and reliability before trusting you with their time and resources. It is rare for undergraduates to be paid to do research, although it happens in some cases. A clear way to demonstrate commitment is to enroll in BIO 598 (see below).

How does involvement in research benefit me?

Involving yourself in research will engage you in the process of science in a way that is rarely possible in the classroom. Through research participation, you will also get to know and be known by a faculty mentor. Impress them and you can get a glowing reference letter at the very least. If you aspire to graduate school, research participation is critical for signaling to future mentors that you know how the process of science works and that you will follow through on your commitments. Your application will be greatly bolstered if you are able to publish or present the results of your work. You may also learn a lot about what inspires you, information that can direct you to a career you love.

How do I get involved in research in biology at Eastern Kentucky University?

As a general rule, the first step is to find a mentor. To do that, talk to your professors and review the research areas for the faculty, screening first for faculty who are mentoring undergraduates in research, and then looking over their “expert areas” or their webpages (if available) to find a match. Then you should contact the biology faculty you are interested in working with and inquire if they have any space in their lab. When you write to them, include the following information:

  1. The type of research that interests you and what motivates you to participate in research
  2. When you expect to graduate
  3. When you would like to start working in a lab
  4. Your GPA and any coursework that you have already had that might be relevant to the research
  5. The type of participation you desire (Do you want to “shadow” someone? How many hours a week would you like to devote to research?)

How does BIO 598 “work”?

Only students with senior standing (90 hours or more) or exceptional juniors may enroll in BIO 598, which is available for 1 to 3 credits per semester for a combined total of 6 credits. To enroll in BIO 598, one must work with a faculty mentor to develop a research proposal (if required by the mentor), fill out an  Independent Studies Proposal Form, and turn it in to the Department of Biological Sciences main office, located in Science Building 3238. At that point, it must be approved by the department chair or associate chair. If the proposal form is approved, it will be sent on to the registrar. Faculty mentors assign the grade for the course.

General tips for filling out the form and the project plan, which will ideally be structured as a mini-syllabus:

  1. The project plan must include student learning outcomes.
  2. The research proposal is optional and at the discretion of the faculty mentor, but a typed description of the research project and expectations of the student are required.
  3. Progress reports or other deadlines are suggested as a mechanism to provide structure and feedback.
  4. A final written report or oral or poster presentation is strongly encouraged but not required.

How do I keep current about events or opportunities in research at EKU?

We maintain a listserv to distribute information to students and faculty interested in undergraduate research at EKU. Subscribe (or unsubscribe) on that page. In addition, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors webpage is worth a visit for links to news, tips, funding sources and opportunities to present your research.

Are there opportunities for research outside of EKU?

Yes, there are several nation-wide programs for undergraduate research participation and one for Kentucky. Some of these programs will pay a stipend for participation.

  1. National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU): Most of these programs run during the summer and have applications due January-March for the following summer. REUs are in disciplines across all sciences and often include seminars on research-oriented careers, how to apply for graduate programs, and scientific ethics. Participants should expect to work with a mentor to plan, implement and share research results.
  2. National Institutes of Health Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research (NIH SIP): These programs run during the summer and applications for the following summer become available in mid-November of the preceding year and are due on March 1st. Applications for these programs are highly competitive.
  3. Another compendium of research opportunities can be found at the Institute for Broadening Participation’s Pathways to Science webpage, with searches targeted at engaging in summer research and a broader advanced search. They also have a National Student Directory where students can sign up online and be notified of programs and funding opportunities (NSF, NASA, etc.) relevant to their disciplinary interests and level of study. Directory members receive 4 to 6 emails per year notifying them of relevant opportunities.
  4. There is a great opportunity for funded undergraduate research in the field of biomedical sciences to be performed at the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville during the summer. To find out more about the program (including program deadlines, requirements, and compensation), see if you are eligible, or apply, check out the program webpage.
  5. The Bruins-In-Genomics (B.I.G.) Summer research program at UCLA invites students who have an interest in genomic-type projects. This 8-week, immersive program will give students the opportunity to experience graduate-level coursework and learn cutting-edge research tools and methods.

Still have questions? Having problems identifying a mentor? Speak with your academic advisor and instructors in the Department of Biological Sciences.