FAQ about undergraduate research

Learn more about research opportunities for undergraduates at the College of Biological Sciences and the University of Minnesota. 

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When is the best time to get involved in research?

Any time along your path when you have the time in your schedule to fit it in! Starting as early as you can in first or second year through the Directed Introduction to Research BIOL 2996 course will help set you up for more in-depth opportunities later in your time in CBS, but also it is never too late to try to get involved in other ways. Reach out to Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu) if you want to get advice. 

I am a first- or second-year student and I have never done research. Where should I start?

The one credit Directed Introduction to Research course (BIOL 2996) is a great way to get introduced to research. Some faculty advertise BIOL 2996 openings using GopheResearch, so you can look there to find opportunities–but you can also contact faculty directly and ask if you can do the course with them. If potential faculty mentors have questions about how BIOL 2996 works, they can contact Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu). 

Other research positions for first and second year students without experience are occasionally available and may be advertised in GopheResearch, but typically these opportunities expect a student to have at least some initial experience. For example, UROP and Directed Research opportunities need for the student to design a specific project that they will work on, and identifying meaningful project ideas and planning research design is very difficult to do without prior experience.

I am a junior and I have never done research. Where should I start?

The Dean’s Research Program was specifically developed to help provide research experience for students who are more advanced towards their degree in CBS but have not yet had the opportunity to work in a research setting. Check out the website for the program to learn more about application dates and expectations, or contact Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu).

Many faculty are willing to consider upper level students for paid research positions even if they haven’t worked in a research group before. Check out GopheResearch for open positions, or contact faculty directly to ask about options. Contact Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu) if you would like to talk to someone for advice.

How much of a time commitment does it take to be involved in research?

It depends on the type of research experience you are involved in, but can range from three hours a week to more than 20 hours a week. The Directed Introduction to Research BIOL 2996 course is one credit and requires three hours a week, and other Directed Research for credit experiences can range from 3-9 hours per week depending on how many credits you register for (three hours per week per credit). The UROP program expects students to work on their project for at least about eight hours per week. Paid positions, including the Dean’s Research Program, can vary by research group–some may be 5-10 hours a week, some may expect more time commitment depending on the type of work being done.

I don't have time to do research during the seminars, but could have time during the summer. What opportunities are available?

Many Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs run in the summer. The UROP program and the Dean’s Research Program are also available in the summer, as are other paid research positions, many of which will be listed on GopheResearch. Most summer programs have deadlines in winter or spring, so plan ahead to submit applications on time. Directed Research is also possible in the summer, but since it is for credit, talk to your academic advisor about summer registration logistics.  

Can I use my work study financial aid with a paid research position?

Yes! We encourage you to let faculty know if you have work study available when you talk to them about paid research positions. If you are getting set up with or already in a research position, contact the CBS Human Resources staff to get help with applying your work study funds to your position.

How do I find faculty who have openings in their research groups?

GopheResearch is a place where research groups post open positions, so it can be a good place to start. You can also ask your professors or email other faculty directly, but try not to get discouraged if it is hard to find openings that way. You can reach out to Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu) for advice if you have tried these approaches and still haven’t found the right opportunity.

Talk to your graduate student TAs and any postdoctoral researchers you get to know through your classes or other activities. They can be excellent contacts for finding opportunities, and they are also the most likely to be your direct mentors when working in a research group!

I am not interested in working in a lab - what kinds of other research experiences are available?

The types of research opportunities available (BIOL 2996, the Dean’s Research Program, Directed Research, UROP and other paid positions) are not limited to laboratory-based research. There are many research groups that work in the field on a range of projects that aren’t based in a lab, including at Cedar Creek, Itasca, and elsewhere. There are also research groups that focus on computational biology, and/or on clinical research that does not involve lab work. Check GopheResearch for different listings, contact professors who do the kind of work you are interested in, or reach out to Dana Davis (dadavis@umn.edu) for advice on where to look for these kinds of opportunities.