Research is a fantastic way to experience biochemistry hands-on and figure out what you enjoy most about this field of science. You are encouraged to find research opportunities that meet your interests, whether that is through the biochemistry department or elsewhere on campus.
There are a lot of ways to get involved in scientific research as an undergraduate student. Many students do research for course credit. Research opportunities may also be available as an independent study, as an internship, or for pay. For all of these opportunities, you’ll first need to find a research mentor.
You are not alone in this process, and we have included lots of resources below that explain the step-by-step processes for finding a mentor, registering for course credit, and more. Some of these resources even have email templates, FAQ, and other tools for you to use. If you get really stuck, schedule an appointment with your advisor to get help figuring out next steps.
Find more information about research opportunities, research awards, senior thesis projects, and more below:
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How to find a mentor or lab
If you wish to do research in a lab as an undergraduate student, you must find a faculty member who is the head of a research lab doing research on topics that you find interesting and who wants you to join their lab. You may want to use a spreadsheet to develop a list of researchers who you want to contact, and to keep track of who you have contacted and when.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Do background research to become familiar with faculty and their areas of research.
- Visit our Research page to learn more about the department’s areas of research areas and narrow down your interests.
- Visit the Biochemistry Faculty page to identify research groups you might be interested in working with. Check out lab web pages and read up on their current research.
- You may also want to consider reaching out to professors in other departments who might be using biochemical techniques (genetics, botany, entomology, oncology, med school, etc.) but who aren’t often approached by biochemistry students.
- The Wisconsin Discovery Portal is a searchable directory of more than 3,000 researchers at UW–Madison. You can search by research interest, researcher’s name, keyword, or patent number.
- In some semesters there is a catalog of labs that are excited to recruit historically underrepresented students. The catalog also has tips for how to apply to labs, and how to choose a lab that suits you
- If you are interested in paid positions, then check out the student jobs website. These positions might be less interesting in the beginning, but they can be a good way to get started in a lab.
Reach out to faculty you’re interested in working with to introduce yourself and share your interest in their lab.
- When you prepare to reach out to researchers, be sure to learn about the work of each individual researcher that you contact. You should be able to demonstrate your genuine interest in being involved with their specific research. You do not need to be an expert on their work.
- This process is like a job interview process. Like finding a job, it also often takes some time and includes reaching out to multiple different researchers.
Resources to help you look for research opportunities
- The BioCommons research pages are dedicated to helping undergraduate students who are looking for guidance exploring research opportunities, finding a mentor, planning a project, and more.
- WISCIENCE offers courses, workshops, peer mentors, videos, and other resources to help you find a mentor and learn more about the research process.
- Introductory Biology, a two-semester, 10-credit course sequence intended for students majoring in the biological sciences, has excellent resources for students who want to find a research lab, including tips on writing a letter of inquiry to a professor, putting together a resume, and more. Find more info here and here.
- The UW–Madison Writing Center may be able to help with your written communications so that your emails to faculty members are more likely to be answered. Your school or college’s Careers advising office may also be able to provide this type of assistance.
- CALS Health and Research Society (CHARS) is a student organization that promotes and supports undergraduate engagement in research.
- Some courses are also related to getting involved in research. Check out CHEM 260 and 261: Entering Research I and II, INTEGSCI 150: Exploring Research in STEM, and INTER-AG 288: Introductory CALS Honors Seminar.
- There are also a few small programs that will match you with a research professor.
Enrolling in research for credit
Students who join a lab on campus often enroll in course credit for their research in that lab, earning them a grade and degree credit for their work. These courses vary by department, often have course numbers ending in 99, and often have course titles like “Independent Study” and “Special Problems”.
Before you can enroll in one of these research courses, you must find a faculty member who is the head of a research lab and wants you to join their lab (see “Resources to help you find a mentor or lab” above).
Note: You need to enroll for credit every semester that you are doing research in the lab and wish to receive course credit for your research.
If your mentor is in the Department of Biochemistry and you wish to enroll in BIOCHEM 299 or 699:
- Review and complete the Independent Study Agreement Form with your research professor and primary mentor. You will select Biochemistry 299 if you have fewer than 54 total credits, or Biochemistry 699 if you have 55 or more credits. Typically, 1 credit = 3-5 hours of research work per week.
- Email a completed and signed copy of the Independent Study Agreement Form to the Biochemistry / Microbiology Undergraduate Advising Hub (email@example.com).
- The undergraduate advisor will give you permission to enroll and instructions on how to actually enroll in the course.
If your mentor is in a department that is NOT Biochemistry:
- Check the Guide page and/or website of that department for information on enrolling for research credit. You may even need to contact that department via email or phone.
- Follow the instructions for that department to enroll in research for credit every semester that you are doing research in the lab.
If you are not sure what department your mentor is in:
- Ask! Ask your faculty mentor, your post-doctoral mentor, your graduate student mentor, your lab manager, and other undergraduates working in the lab about how to enroll for research credit in your new lab. They may know about the process from working with other students or they’ll know who to ask next.
- If they’re not sure, then look it up! In Course Search and Enroll use the “Keyword, instructor, number” field (below “Search for Courses”) and enter your faculty mentor’s last name. Look for course results with the numbers 299 or 699. Identify the subject/department that offers 299 or 699 with your mentor as the instructor and contact that department to ask how to enroll.
- If you still can’t find it, then email the Biochemistry / Microbiology Undergraduate Advising Hub (firstname.lastname@example.org). They may not know, but they may have more ideas of how to find out.
- Then, follow the instructions for that department to enroll in research for credit every semester that you are doing research in the lab.
Research awards and scholarships
The university and the Department of Biochemistry offer a number of awards to support undergraduate research projects.
To learn more about the awards and apply, visit the Scholarships & Awards page.
Senior thesis / senior honors thesis projects
A senior thesis gives you a chance to dive deeper into a research topic of interest. The thesis experience will help you develop your reading, research, and writing skills, and many students find this a rewarding experience in which to develop new skills through independent work.
To learn more about the awards and apply, visit the Senior Thesis page.