Research with Faculty

If you are a first-semester, first-year student, or final-semester senior, you can participate in research opportunities.

How to Find Opportunities

Sometimes professors advertise open research positions either via work-study, the student opportunity center, on the biology Facebook page or through other student communication channels. However, most mentors are found by so-called cold calling, where you send an email to someone you don’t know asking if you can join a current or future research project.

Pick an Area of Science

This might be here in the biology department, where we have research opportunities in ecology, evolution and systematics, molecular genetics, cell biology, and physiology. If you prefer the life sciences, you can consider areas such as biological complexity, environmental studies, or engineering.

Many biology majors choose to step outside the Monroe Park campus and reach out to professors on the MCV campus for opportunities in biomedical research. The School of Medicine hosts eight basic science departments, with faculty eager to engage and teach undergraduates:

  1. Anatomy and Neurobiology
  2. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  3. Biostatistics
  4. Health Behavior and Policy
  5. Human and Molecular Genetics
  6. Microbiology and Immunology
  7. Pharmacology and Toxicology
  8. Physiology and Biophysics

In addition, VCU's schools of dentistry, pharmacy and nursing, as well as the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, are all open to biology majors working in their labs.

Browse Interest Area Websites

Do your research! Browse websites of your chosen research areas. Find faculty pages and read about their work.

Connect with Faculty

Pick about five to 10 faculty members whose research interests you.

Send a polite email to each faculty member requesting an appointment to discuss the possibility of working in their lab. Remember, researchers often want a minimum of 10 hours of your time, typically between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. Be clear about your availability.

If the faculty member can take you into their group and it feels like you would be a good match, they may offer you a position. This faculty member will then become your faculty research adviser and will help you design a research project.

Register for Credit

After choosing your research adviser, think about whether you would like to register for academic credit. Students can use up to six credits of research towards their Biology degree. Research can also be used for up to two lab experiences (if taken multiple times or multiple semester experience).

Consider the following course options:

  • BIOZ/L395 Directed Study is a two-credit pass/fail class where the expectations are very low. No real data is needed, and the course is usually used by younger students, or those about to graduate who need one extra lab.
  • BIOL492 Independent Study is a one-to-four credit, A-F single-semester class where students are expected to put together a final report. This is the most popular option and enrolls 30-40 students per semester. Two credits of BIOL492 counts as a lab requirement. BIOL492 also can count for the biology capstone requirement if a student meets prerequisites for BIOL 477. Up to six credits of BIOL492 can be used towards your biology major.
  • BIOL495 Research and Thesis is a year-long class where students write a thesis, poster and oral. Typically students only join this class if they have been working in the lab prior to the semester beginning. This is the hardest option and best for those that are bound for graduate school and/or seeking Honors in Biology. Note: BIOL495 has pre-requisites of BIOL392 Introduction to Research and co-requisites of BIOL489 Communicating Research (fall) and BIOL490 Presenting Research (spring), and can only be joined in the fall.

Research Course Commitment Attestation:

Students registering for research courses must understand that participation in Biology Research Experiences requires hands-on work, most often performed in person, at a physical laboratory or research site defined by the research mentor. They must discuss their in-person availability with their research mentor and mutually agree on a schedule and tentative plan for their contributions to the research group. This agreement must be re-evaluated prior to each semester for continuing research experiences. 

Complete Registration Request

Once you have found a mentor and agreed which class you are going to join, you must complete the Research-Based Classes Registration Request [Google Form] Once you have completed this, your mentor must send an email to Sarah Golding, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate research, at confirming that they agree to mentor you. The override will then be approved.

You will then receive an email from the Advising Office telling you that you can register by typing in the CRN number. It can take a while to receive this email, but remember that you have through add/drop to complete this.

After Registration

Once you are registered, you will receive access to the Canvas site (can take 24 hours) for the course, where you will be provided with directions on when to submit assignments, etc. Details and deadlines for all assignments can be seen on your syllabus.

Set Your Schedule

Determine a schedule with your research adviser for when you will be working in the lab.

Remember the time that you will work in the lab depends on the number of credits your independent study is worth (one credit is equal to three to four hours per week in the lab. For example, if your independent study is worth two credits, you will work two days a week for approximately three to four hours each day.)

Submit Your Research Proposal

Once you are registered for class, you will be able to see the class in Canvas. All directions about the class will be issued via Canvas. Within the first three weeks of the semester, you need to submit a proposal of your research project to Canvas.

Complete Your Final Report

At the end of the semester, you will submit a final report of your research project to Canvas.