Thinking of going to graduate school? Want to find out if a career doing research is for you? Want your professional school application to stand out? Then you need research experience! Here in the Division of Biological Sciences, we believe that research experience is a valuable part of the undergraduate education of a scientist, and we are committed to providing undergraduates opportunities for developing their own research programs. Most DBS faculty members mentor undergradaute students, and there are typically ~ 100 undergraduate students working in labs at any one time. We encourage and support many undergraduate students to present their research at conferences, and many are co-authors on publications. This high-quality mentoring is reflected by the many undergraduate students who are awarded scholarships and research awards.
So, you’ve decided you want to conduct your own research. What’s next?
Step 1: Identify a faculty mentor
The first thing you need to do is find somebody to mentor you. Sometimes there are specific programs that are designed to get undergraduate students involved in a research project. The Division of Biological Sciences lists the current programs on their website. You may also find other opportunities at the University of Montana’s Undergraduate Research website . If none of those projects appeals to you, then the thing to do is to find a faculty member whose research sparks your interest. Go to the lab web pages of the faculty in DBS. Read through the research interests of all of the faculty members and find a few people whose research really interests you. You can also check out professors in other departments on campus, like Wildlife Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, or Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Step 2: Talk to your faculty mentor
Once you have identified a faculty member whose interests are similar to yours, the next step is to contact them to talk about joining their laboratory. It helps to know as much as you can about their research, so read some of their papers (usually listed on their website), and think about what you might want to do with them. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do, but if you have a general idea, it helps. Now, give them a call or send them an email, requesting a meeting to talk about working in their lab. Don’t be discouraged if the first couple of people are not able to work with you. Professors are very busy people, and sometimes they just don’t have the time or the space in their lab to take on a new person. Just keep trying!
If you like, you can earn UM credit for conducting your own research. Your faculty mentor serves as the instructor of the course, and can help you register for it. You can take it as a BIOB, BIOM, or BCH course, depending upon the type of research (if your faculty mentor is in another department, the course will be in their home department; e.g. CHMY). The number of the course can be 390 or 490, depending upon the level of the work. If you are interested in presenting the results of your work as a senior thesis, you can register for BCH 499, BIOB 499, or BIOM 499. You can also present the results of your work at the UM Conference on Undergraduate Research or at another regional or national conference.