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Undergraduate Students

Student Research FAQs

How do I get involved in a research lab?

1. Find out about the neuroscience faculty and their research interests. Click here​​​ to view a list of the faculty research emphases. Student research projects cover a wide variety of topics including the biophysics of ion channels and transmitter receptors, cell biology of neurotransmitter release, development of the nervous system (from stem cells to infants), sensory system development and physiology, sexual differentiation of the brain, neural control of the endocrine and cardiovascular systems, hormonal control of behavior, stress/anxiety/depression, motivation and addiction, cognitive function, learning and memory, speech and language, and neuroimaging.

2. After narrowing down your list to a few professors with whom you’d like to work, do more homework on their research projects and lab environment. Read a few of their recently published papers. Read abstracts and posters that undergraduate students working in the lab have written (often they are posted outside the labs on the walls). Talk to students that are already in the lab. Find out what projects are currently running and what projects may be coming in the future. Ask yourself the following questions: Would I enjoy working in this lab? Do the lab projects interest me? How many hours am I able to devote to working in the lab?

3. Talk to the faculty member with whom you’d like to work. Meet with the faculty face-to-face. Tell him/her that you have spent quite a bit of time learning about their research and lab, that you have read their papers, that you have talked to other students in the lab, and that you are interested in joining their lab. Tell them what specific projects interest you, but be flexible and ask what projects need additional researchers. Tell them how many hours you are able to devote to doing lab work, but again, be flexible and ask how many hours the professor expects of his students. Professors are more likely to react favorably to you if you are well-prepared, flexible, and a bit persistent (but not overbearing). Labs are often full. If this is the case, ask if you can attend lab meeting to learn more about the research going on in the lab. Getting your foot in the door may help you get into the lab in the future.

When in my college career should I seek a mentored experience?
As soon as possible. It is never too early or too late. Many professors seek out bright freshmen or sophomore to work in their lab. It takes several months to learn how to effectively do lab work. If you begin early in your education, you will become productive in the lab by the time you graduate. If you are a junior or senior, get involved immediately. There are projects available for all levels of students.

How much time should I devote to doing lab work?
The more time you can devote to working in the lab, the more rewarding your experience will be. A student that works 10-20 hours a week will get more out of the experience than a student that is only in the lab 4-5 hours a week. Realize that the time commitment required to be an effective lab member varies depending on the project, so make sure that you discuss this with your potential mentor. Often a student begins by spending a few hours each week to shadow other students, learn lab techniques, and attend lab meetings. When a student assumes his/her own project, a heavier time commitment is usually necessary.

Can I get paid for working in the lab?
Generally students volunteer in the lab for a few months. After they have learned a few techniques and know how the lab runs, students can volunteer in the lab for university credit (Neuro 449R). You’ll need to discuss this possibility with your mentor. 
There are also opportunities to be paid for your research. Consider applying for an ORCA grant (a grant from the university to an individual student that is doing research). Some labs may have funding to pay students a salary for their research work. This typically is available only to the most productive and dedicated students after they have spent a couple of semesters in the lab. Again, you’ll need to discuss this possibility with your mentor.

What can I expect from a mentored experience?
The types of experiences that students have as undergraduates at BYU are equivalent to what graduate students at other universities experience. BYU provides outstanding opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved.

In addition to developing a professional and personal relationship with your mentor and the other students in the lab, you will learn how to do the following:

  • use state-of-the-art lab techniques,
  • read and understand current scientific literature,
  • apply the scientific method in designing, performing, and interpreting experiments, and
  • professionally present your results. Often students present their research at regional, national, and international scientific meetings.

 There may also be opportunities for you to publish your work in a scientific journal. These experiences will help you be a better scientist, a more competitive applicant to graduate or professional school, and be better equipped to “go forth and serve” in your chosen field.