We know you are interested in and maybe even love the study of neuroscience, but you might be concerned about how to best maximize your education. Here is some information that may help. Research is defined as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation that is designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. Research generally is described in a protocol that sets forth explicit objectives and formal procedures designed to investigate those objectives. Participating in mentored research with faculty will fulfill one of the optional requirements for the neuroscience undergraduate degree.
Toggle ItemHow do I get involved in a research lab?
1. Learn about the neuroscience faculty and their research interests. Click here to view a list of the faculty and their research emphasis. Student mentored research projects cover a wide variety of topics and areas of neuroscience. Ongoing research areas include: biophysics of ion channels and transmitter receptors, neurotransmitter release, neuroimaging 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, addiction, cognitive function, learning and memory, speech and language development and disorders, and neuroimaging.
2. Narrow your list to a few professors who are doing research that you are interested in and with whom you would like to work. Then study 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 research labs). Talk to students that are working with the professor in the lab. Find out what research projects are currently underway and what projects may be coming in the future. Ask yourself the following questions: Would I enjoy working in this lab and doing this kind of research? Do the research projects interest me? How many hours am I able to devote to working on research? Many faculty labs require a time commitment of 5 to 10 hours per week.
3. Make an appointment to meet with the faculty member (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 research 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 research, but again, be flexible and ask how many hours the professor expects of his students. If you are well prepared, flexible, and a bit persistent (but not overbearing), professors are more likely to react favorably. Labs are often full and do not have an open research position. If this is the case, ask if you can attend lab meetings to learn more about the current research projects. Getting your foot in the door may help you get into the lab in the future.
Toggle ItemWhen 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 sophomores to work in their lab. It takes several months to learn what you need to know to work on a research project. If you begin early in your education, you will gain important research skills and 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 stages of students.
Toggle ItemHow much time should I devote to doing lab work?
The more time you can devote to research, the more rewarding your experience will be. A student that works 10 or more hours a week will get more out of the experience than a student that is only involved for a few hours a week. Realize that the time commitment required to be an effective member of the research team 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 research techniques, and attend lab meetings. When a student assumes his/her own project, a heavier time commitment is usually necessary.
Toggle ItemCan I get paid for working in the lab?
Once students learn research techniques and know how the lab runs, students can work in the lab for university credit (Neuro 449R). You will need to discuss this possibility with your faculty mentor. Neuro 449R counts towards graduation requirements.
There are also opportunities for paid research positions. Some research labs may have funding to pay students to work on research in the lab. Funding is limited and typically is available only to the most productive and dedicated students after they have spent a couple of semesters working in the lab. You will need to discuss this possibility with your faculty mentor. Note that you cannot receive credit and payment simultaneously for the same work.
Consider applying for a college or department research grant. Grants are available to individual students doing research and can provide scholarships or wages for the student. Students should apply for a grant in the college of their faculty mentor. The College of Life Sciences provides College Undergraduate Research Awards, CURA grants. If your research mentor is in another college, talk to them regarding grant opportunities they can apply for in that college. Work closely with your faculty mentor when applying for these grants.
Toggle ItemWhat can I expect from a mentored experience?
The types of research experiences that students have as undergraduates at BYU are often equivalent to what graduate students experience. BYU provides outstanding opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research.
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 research and laboratory techniques,
- read and understand current scientific literature,
- apply the scientific method in designing, performing, and interpreting experiments
- present your results at a professional meeting (students often 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. Publication of research should be discussed with your faculty mentor. 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.