Undergraduate Research and Independent Study

Looking for a Research Opportunity
How to get involved in a Research Lab
Resources to help you look
Navigating the Process | Finding Researchers | Structured Opportunities

How to Enroll if you have your Research Opportunity lined up
Biochemistry Department Mentor | Other Department Mentor | Unsure Mentor's Department

Looking for a Research Opportunity


How to get involved in research in a lab on campus as an undergraduate student

There are a lot of ways to get involved in scientific research as an undergraduate student!

Student pipettingOne of the more common ways is to join a lab on campus and enroll in course credit for that lab. This way you get a grade and degree credit for your work. These courses vary by department, are often numbered 299, 699, etc. and have course titles like “Independent Study” and “Special Problems”.

When you want to enroll in normal courses you just look them up in Course Search and Enroll to see if there are seats open. Enrolling in a research course for credit, however, is different.

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.

Here’s how you do it!

First, it is your responsibility to find faculty members who are the head of labs doing research on topics that you find interesting. You may want to use a spreadsheet to develop a list of these researchers that you want to contact, and to keep track of who you have contacted and when.

Second, you will reach out to them 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.

You are not alone in this process, and we have included lots of resources below that explain the process step-by-step. 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 where you are stuck.

When you have met a really great researcher and they have invited you to join a lab for the semester, then you and your faculty mentor will need to agree on what you expect from each other this semester. When you are ready to have this conversation with them, click How to enroll for credit when you already have a research opportunity lined up to take the next step.

Resources to help you look for a research opportunity

Student doing experimentHere are a few resources to help you search for independent study opportunities as an undergraduate student. These are not complete lists. If you learn of something else, let us know at biochemmicrobio-advisor@wisc.edu.

How to navigate the process

Where to learn about individual researchers

  • Look at the Biochemistry Faculty (or faculty in any department) and see whose research interests you. Biochemistry faculty member love to work with Biochemistry majors. If you do join a Biochemistry lab, here are the instructions to enroll for credit.
  • 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.

Structured opportunities

There are a few small programs that will match you with a research professor

group of students in Biochem 551

There are even a few courses related to getting involved in research 

  • CHEM 260 and 261: Entering Research I and II
  • INTEGSCI 150: Exploring Research in STEM
  • INTER-AG 288: Introductory CALS Honors Seminar


How to enroll for credit when you already have a research opportunity lined up

You need take action to enroll in the course every semester that you are doing research in the lab.

If your mentor is in the Department of Biochemistry:

To enroll in BIOCHEM 299 or 699, follow these steps every semester that you want to do research:

Student doing experiment

  • 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 (biochemmicrobio-advisor@wisc.edu).
  • The undergraduate advisor will give you permission to enroll and instructions on how to actually enroll in the course. 

Click to Download Independent Study Agreement Form

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.
  • Then, 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 (biochemmicrobio-advisor@wisc.edu). 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.