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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 biology student projects at UNI Scholarworks.

Field Research Students

Undergraduate Research Opportunities in Biology

Research opportunities are available for qualified students in the Department of Biology. There are over 20 departmental faculty involved in research in subfields including anatomy, physiology, cellular and molecular biology, ecology, evolution, and organismal biology. Students interested in participating in undergraduate research should read about faculty research interests and then contact potential faculty mentors in their areas of interest. Opportunities for involvement in undergraduate research in the Department of Biology at are described below.


Many professors need extra help in the lab or field, but do not have grants or other funded positions to pay students.  Faculty may rely on student volunteers to assist with research in this situation. Volunteering is a good option to get a first experience in research without a large time or financial commitment, and some faculty may require students first volunteer for a semester to gain experience before doing research for academic credit or in a funded position. Start by contacting faculty members whose research interests you and see whether they need assistance.

Cell Structure Lab

Independent Study (BIOL 4198)

This is a good option if you want some research experience, but do not have the time or desire to turn it into a fully-developed research project. Students may enroll for 1-2 credits per semester (with the expectation of about 3 hours of research activity per week per credit hour).

Undergraduate Research (BIOL 3190)

This is a good option if you are interested in being involved in a long term research project spanning multiple semesters or years.  Students wishing to complete a senior honors thesis in biology must complete 4 credits of BIOL 3190.  Most students choosing Undergraduate Research enroll for 1-3 credits per semester with the expectation that each credit involves about 3 hours of research activity per week per credit for the duration of the semester.  Completion of BIOL 2051 & 2052, sophomore standing, and consent of the department are required.

Work Study

If you have work federal work study from Financial Aid, contact Megan Kaisand ( in the department office to see if there are opportunities to work with a faculty member.

Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)

Summer Undergraduate Research Students

The Summer Undergraduate Research Program in the Department of Biology is a competitive program with applications due in the Fall. SURP students are paired with faculty mentors to do independent research during the summer.  If selected, students first enroll in one credit of Readings in Biology (BIOL 3185) to develop a research plan in conjunction with their faculty mentor.  Students complete their research during the 10 week summer program and receive a $3,000 stipend (with the expectation of 40 hours work per week).  All SURP students present their research in poster form at the College of Humanities, Arts, & Sciences Undergraduate Research Symposium held each July or August.  The  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, students enroll in 3 credits of Undergraduate Research (BIOL 3190) for work completed over the summer.  Students also take Undergraduate Research Seminar (BIOL 3189) and give a conference-style oral presentation of their research to the department and university community.  There is no summer tuition charged for SURP (the academic 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 the SURP application deadline each fall.
  • 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 in your academic career.
  • don't be afraid to contact faculty about research opportunities. You can find faculty research interests on the departmental web page.  Start by sending an email or by introducing yourself in person. Keep it short and simple: introduce yourself, say why you are interested in getting research experience and what your interests are, and ask whether there are any opportunities available. Don't be discouraged if a particular lab is "full" - keep trying!