Independent Study & Undergraduate Research

For more information about research options and how to register Biology academic credit please see our Bioadvising portal at

Any undergraduate can conduct research with any faculty member (who accepts them)! Working in the lab will not only teach you the fundamentals of research but also will earn you academic credit. If nothing else, you will learn skills and techniques that could lead to postgraduate employment!


This is not true at all. Faculty members enjoy working along side undergraduates and believe that it is very important for the student to get hands on experience working in a lab. They want you to feel as though you are a part of their research team and they want you to enjoy and learn from your experience in the lab. In fact, most faculty members got their start as undergraduate researchers.

When you work in any faculty member’s lab you are working as a member of a research team. You are not expected to know everything about a subject when working on an independent study. You are expected, however, to apply your classroom and laboratory knowledge to your project and to have done your homework before starting in the lab. You will not be “spoon-fed.” Your research team members and faculty research adviser are there to help you with any questions or concerns you may have when working in the lab, but they expect you to work hard and remember what they tell you. It is a learning experience for you as an undergraduate. Faculty research advisers want you to learn and do research, but at the same time enjoy the experience of working in a scientific setting.

Although the course is called “Independent Study”, it is not a truly independent research experiment. You will never be forced to perform long, arduous, difficult tasks or research by yourself. You are usually given simple tasks initially. As you prove yourself, you will be given more responsibility and independence. Your research team members and faculty research advisers work with you throughout the entire experiment.

Most individuals interested in taking an independent study have the idea that they will have to be in the lab from sunrise to sunset. This is a complete misunderstanding. When working on an independent study you are required to participate in lab research/activities for a minimum of six hours per week. Your schedule for working in the lab will be determined in conjunction with your research adviser, but you will need to be a very organized person.

Undergraduate Research Options for Biology Majors

Undergraduate Research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student under the mentorship of a senior researcher that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.
(Council on Undergraduate Research)

Research experience is valuable because it promotes:

  • Learning by doing – and it’s fun!
  • Skills development, including study design, data collection, computation, analysis of findings, and communication of results.
  • Tangible outcomes such as research abstracts, conference presentations, and manuscripts grounded in real-world experience.
  • Career development opportunities such as professional networking and resume/vitae building.
  • Positive attitudes, habits, and intentions, including research ethics, perseverance, and professionalism.

VCU is proud to host an impressive array of research opportunities for our undergraduate students. In addition to faculty members in Biology, Biology majors can choose to engage in research anywhere at VCU including the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Nursing or at with the Center for Environmental Studies and the VCU Rice Rivers Field Station.

Undergraduate researchers at VCU are frequently presenting their research at VCU, and Regional, and National Research meetings. Some VCU undergraduates have even been recognized by authorship on peer-reviewed scientific papers. VCU also offers the NIH-funded Initiative to Maximize Student Development which VCU Biology students are eligible to apply for.

Students studying Biology at VCU can take advantage of many programmatic opportunities, class based opportunities for academic credit (BIOL/Z 395 Directed StudyBIOL492 Independent Study, or Research and Thesis BIOL495).

In addition, many institutions around the country (and even abroad) offer summer based research programs. We encourage students to apply for these! Current opportunities can be found on this blog and the Biology facebook page.

Students should read the following pages describing our class based opportunities and follow our “Finding Research Opportunities” guide for step by step instructions on how to secure a mentor. See our FAQs section to answer all your questions about undergraduate research!

Research can fit into a student curriculum of study at many different times. Different classes work for different students depending on their future goals and current degree standing. The chart below provides some crude advice on where those classes might fit best in your program of study.

 Advising Chart
 BIOL 395 Directed Study Freshman - Seniors 
 BIOL 492 Independent Study Rising Juniors - Seniors
(Summer before juniors) 
 BIOL 495 Research and Thesis Senior Year Fall and Spring 

For more information on undergraduate research at VCU see the Bioadvising portal “Finding Undergraduate Research Opportunities” or the University Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program “UROP”

To discuss your research interests further feel free to email:
Dr. Sarah Golding, Director for Undergraduate Research –