Types of Undergraduate Research

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What Can You Gain from a Research Experience?

  • The opportunity to help solve real-life problems you care about
  • A chance to learn about the newest research that hasn’t even been published yet
  • Professional mentoring and networking—advice on careers and educational paths, plus a source of letters of recommendation
  • Understanding which kinds of technical skills are necessary for a research career
  • An opportunity to find out if you like different kinds of scientific work
  • Transferable skills employers look for—leadership, teamwork, communication, organizational skills, critical thinking, self-confidence, perseverance

Research Experiences for Academic Credit

Opportunities for getting research experience can be found in introductory biology courses as well as upper-level and independent study courses.

  • A semester-long independent research project usually earns 1-2 credits. Ask your advisor if it counts toward your degree.
  • You may be required to write a paper or create a poster about your project. This is a great opportunity to gain communication skills—just make sure you budget enough time to do it well.
  • Some courses and academic programs help you find a mentor, and some don’t so check with the instructor.
Some of the courses open to freshmen or sophomores are listed below:
  • Zoology/Botany 152  In the lab portion of 152 (the second semester of the 151/152 sequence), students may choose to do a mentored research project. The course coordinator assists students in finding mentors. Details of this offering are announced in class and outlined in the lab manual.
  • Biocore 382 (Evolution, Ecology and Genetics lab—fall semester) and Biocore 384 (Cellular Biology—spring semester). For Biocore program students only. Develop your research questions and do your own experiments on topics ranging from ecology in the Biocore Prairie to genetics and gene expression of “glow” worms, to pheromone cellular signaling in yeast. See Biocore honors porgram for details.
  • Directed/Independent Study, Special Problems, Honors and Senior Thesis courses can be found in the Course Guide under numbers such as 199, 299, 681-2, 691-2, 698 and 699. Directed/independent study courses can be done during any semester and may be repeated for credit. Summer Session can also be a good time for a research experience.
  • Entering Research, Parts 1 and 2 (Biology 260 and 261). A two-semester series of one-credit courses designed to complement and support a research experience. For sophomore and transfer students taking 1-3 independent research credits concurrently.
  • Honors Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (which offers an Honors in Research Program option) and the College of Letters and Science

Research in Part-Time Employment

Working as a student hourly in a research lab can be a great way to get experience in lab procedures while earning money. To find out about student hourly positions currently open, visit the UW Student Job Center.

  • You might have to start out by performing basic procedures and work up to research.
  • Not every job involves research—don’t assume.
  • Ask the supervisor about research possibilities—in your current job or one posted in the Job Center.

Research as a volunteer experience

If don’t need credit or pay, consider approaching a potential mentor and requesting the opportunity to participate in his/her research program as a volunteer. The Morgridge Center for Public Service has the best-centralized information about volunteering, or you can find a mentor on your own.

There may be fewer requirements than a course or job; then again, your mentor may still expect that you commit to a given amount of time per week or that you write a paper or give a presentation on your research. Ask about expectations early on. Recognize that the scientists are spending a lot of their time on training you. Be prepared to reciprocate and commit substantial time to the lab work.

Summer Research Opportunities

There are opportunities for summer research experiences both on and off-campus. Most summer programs provide stipends and some provide for travel expenses and/or housing/meals. Most are for students who have completed their sophomore or junior years and a GPA of 3.0 or above may be required. Application deadlines range from late January to mid-March. (These may change – check early for the current year’s deadline!)

UW–Madison programs:

Several summer research programs operate on the UW–Madison campus offered through individual departments and centers and the Graduate School. Many are geared to those under-represented in research (i.e., minority students; students who are first-generation college and low-income may also be eligible), but some are less restricted.

Programs Across the Country:

The following websites list research programs available nationwide:

Community-Based Research

For information about public service opportunities, including community-based research, visit the Public Service Opportunities page.