Undergraduate Research

What is it?

Undergraduate research is an excellent opportunity to engage in biology by performing independent research with faculty in our department or in departments affiliated with UofL. Independent research usually involves a multi-semester project in which students have a distinct project on which they are working. Research does not entail washing dishes in someone’s lab or performing grunt work for other members of the research lab but rather is designed for students to perform research in their area of interest.

Who should do it?

Those who should consider doing undergraduate research are primarily those interested in pursuing research post-graduation such as those intending on pursuing their M.S. or Ph.D. degrees either alone or in conjunction with an M.D. (MD/PhD) or D.M.D. (DMD/PhD) degree. Also, students that are curious and might be interested in performing research should try independent research. 

Students should have blocks of time during the week that they can engage in research without it interfering with their course work. If you don’t have several 2-3 hour blocks of time during the week, perhaps waiting another semester would be a better choice.

All students from any major can apply to do independent research. However, priority is usually given to those in the Biology major or prospective Biology majors. Freshman and sophomores are encouraged to apply.

How do I start?

Students interested in performing undergraduate research should review the websites of faculty members in the Biology Department or in departments on the Health Science Campus. Students should contact faculty members directly through email . When composing an email, don’t send out a blanket email to many professors. Instead, we suggest individualizing your email to each professor you write to explain how the research in their lab meshes with your future career goals. You should also include an unofficial transcript as an email attachment.

Note that some professors will not answer your email as they are not looking for new students or do not accept undergraduate students. We suggest you write to several professors whose research looks interesting to you to increase your chances of finding a lab.

Students interested in working with professors in other departments or on other University of Louisvile campuses can do so for course credit in Biology. To do this, you will need a Biology faculty member as a co-mentor.  There are a number of other departments in the university whose faculty might be suitable mentors. 


For course credit, expect paperwork.  Once you have come to an agreement with a mentor about a project and its expectations, download an independent study form from the College of Arts and Sciences site. When it is completed and signed, return it to the Biology Department office.  This is necessary in order for you to register for a research course for credit.

What should I expect?

Undergraduate research can be done on a voluntary basis, for course credit (common), or for pay (rare). Most students performing research do so at first through a voluntary basis. This is to get students trained in the beginning on the general techniques required.

Some professors may require you to take course credit; others won’t let you take course credit until you have been in the lab for a while. Some faculty members require at least a year long commitment before they agree to have you in the lab because it takes a long time to be trained; others may have shorter one semester projects that anyone can do. Procedures are very dependent on the individual faculty member, so make sure to understand the expectations of the professor prior to agreeing to be in a lab.

For students engaged in research for credit (BIOL 404, 405, 406), additional expectations are that you will produce some product at the end of the semester in which you are enrolled (beyond standard notebooking practices.) This could consist of a poster presentation, a scientific manuscript in a format suited for publication, a presentation at a scientific meeting, or an honor’s thesis.