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Undergraduate Research

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Why do research as an undergraduate?

Students who do scientific research as undergraduates say it changes their lives. They get to be discoverers of scientific information rather than consumers. It makes them more competitive when applying to graduate and professional schools. But most of all, they join the ranks of scientists, seekers of knowledge following a centuries-old intellectual tradition.  You can view some past student projects at UNI Scholarworks.

Field Research Students

What kind of research should you do?

It doesn't matter much what organisms you work on, though you might already know if you want to work in the field or in the lab (or in both). What counts is doing the job, from reading papers to giving the final presentation at a professional meeting.

Are Research Opportunities Available?

Research opportunities are available for qualified and interested students within the Department of Biology. There are approximately 30 faculty in the Department of Biology, all of whom are involved in research efforts. Students considering research should be aware of the focus required and expense entailed in supplying research projects. As faculty time is limited, well-prepared and organized students generally do best in the limited openings in faculty research laboratories. Interested students should read about faculty research projects and speak to faculty managing the projects of interest. Below are some ways to become involved with research in the Department of Biology at UNI.


Many professors would like some extra help, but do not have money to pay for it. Volunteering is a good option if you are not sure whether you want to do research, or what exactly you want to do. Start contacting faculty members and see whether they would like a hand (see tips, below).

Cell Structure Lab

Independent Study (BIOL 4198)

Another good option if you want some lab experience, but do not have the time (or desire) to turn it into a full-blown research project. You can sign up for typically 1-2 credits per semester, figuring roughly 2-3 hours per week of work, per credit hour (this may vary with different professors).

Undergraduate Research (BIOL 3190)

This is a good option if you are interested in being involved in a long term research project (spanning semesters / years), potentially leading to the writing of a senior's honors thesis. The thesis/honors option requires 4 credits of undergraduate research. As for Undergraduate Research, most students sign up for 1-3 credits / semester. You should figure on spending 3 or more hours of work per credit hour.

Work Study

If you have work study money from Financial Aid, contact Sandi Ingles in the Biology Department!!

Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)

Summer Undergraduate Research Students

A competitive program, with applications due in the Fall. SURP students are paid to do research during the summer ($3000/10 weeks). If selected, you must sign up for Readings (BIOL 3185, with your faculty mentor) in the Spring to help prepare you, then work full time during the summer in the lab/field. All Biology summer research students present their research in poster form at a formal science symposium at the end of the summer. The following Fall, you sign up for both UG research (for 3 credits) and UG Research Seminar (BIOL 3189), where you will give an oral presentation of your work. There is no summer tuition charged for this program (the credits are awarded in the Fall).

What is required of you?

  • reliability, responsibility, and enthusiasm! Research is a learning opportunity. No one expects you to come in with a lot of experience, so don't worry.
  • watch out for deadlines, especially for the summer programs.
  • think ahead! Applications (for professional schools) are typically due in the Fall. If you want research experience to go on your applications / resumes, you need to get involved early.
  • don't be afraid to jump in there and contact faculty. You can find faculty research interests on the departmental web page, then start sending emails. Keep it short and simple: introduce yourself, say you are interested in getting experience (and briefly, why), and ask whether there are any opportunities available. Don't be discouraged if a particular lab is "full" - keep trying!