Undergraduate Research

There are many reasons why students get involved in undergraduate research in biology. First and foremost, biology is a discipline that seeks to better understand the fundamental questions of life through observation and experimentation. If this is your primary motivation, then research is probably for you. Maybe you are thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in the biological sciences, and you would like to see what it might be like? That's another great reason to pursue an undergraduate research opportunity. Whatever your reason, opportunities to get involved in research exist in a variety of places.

To help you explore options, please read through this webpage, or you can schedule an appointment with the Biology Department's Undergraduate Research Advisor, Dr. Amy Wiles, at wiles_am@mercer.edu.

2016-2017 Undergraduate Research Application: download here!

Opportunities for Undergraduate Research

Course-based research

The biology department incorporates independent research opportunities in many of our laboratory courses. Students often work in laboratory groups to design and carryout experimental observations to address a biological question related to the course. This is a great way to get a sense of what research is about, without having to commit time outside of course expectations. Courses that have elements undergraduate research include: BIO 211, BIO 212, BIO 310, etc.


Faculty-led research for credit (BIO 299/499)

Most biology faculty maintain an active research program with undergraduates. You can find out more about their research by visiting their individual webpages (Biology Faculty). Students that are invited to participate by an individual professor enroll in either BIO 299 or BIO 499 (Course Descriptions) for one or two hours of academic credit. Typically, students work in the laboratory with their research mentor for at least three to four hours per week, but often it requires more time. Specific requirements (time commitments, reading and writing assignments, etc.) are determined by each individual professor.

Unfortunately, due to limited space and resources, these opportunities are insufficient to meet the growing demand for one-on-one research with a faculty mentor in the department. See the FAQ below for suggestions on how to increase your chances of finding an agreeable research mentor. In addition, you can schedule an appointment with the Biology Department's Undergraduate Research Advisor, Dr. Amy Wiles (wiles_am@mercer.edu), to help you through the process.


Additional research opportunities

NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs)

The National Science Foundation provides financial support for students to work with scientists based at external universities. REUs provide an excellent opportunity for young scholars to assist in cutting-edge research and gain exposure to ideas that may form the basis of post-graduate training. Interested students should contact potential host universities directly for more information. Click here for more information on REUs, as well as a searchable database of colleges and universities supported by this program.

Summer Internship Opportunities

For a list of summer internship opportunities geared towards undergraduate biology students, click here.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I find out about research opportunities?

Your academic advisor or the undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Amy Wiles (wiles_am@mercer.edu) can help you find courses that have some level of independent research involved. For faculty-led research, positions are determined by availability and approval of individual biology faculty.

To find out about faculty research areas, visit each professor's webpage (Biology Faculty). If the topic interests you, you can either contact the professor to ask about availability, or submit an application (see above) that can be viewed by faculty seeking undergraduate researchers.

Is there a GPA requirement?

No. However, a GPA above a 3.0 in the sciences will increase your chances of finding a successful position. Research is a great opportunity to put your skills in practice, but your main priority should still be academic success in your courses.

When can I get involved?

Most positions start at the beginning of the semester, but because of the schedules involved, you should begin your application and conversations with faculty well ahead of advising and registration.

What kind of time commitment is required?

For faculty-led research, each faculty member has his or her own requirements and expectations for time commitments. Typically, undergraduate researchers just starting may work a couple of days a week for a few hours. More experienced student researchers often commit much more of their time each week, by choice.

What if I can't find a research position with a faculty advisor?

If you can't find a research position immediately, you have several options available to you. You can enroll in a course where undergraduate research projects are an active focus. You can also apply for research positions in the medical school, or other institutions during the summer break. Make sure that your grades are kept relatively high, as most professors will prefer you focus on your courses, if your GPA is below 3.0. Lastly, show some initiative. If you are interested in a particular topic, read the primary literature on the subject, and design an experimental plan. Volunteer in a prospective lab to wash dishes, make media, or sit in on laboratory meetings. You just might be able to find a professor willing to take a chance on you with space and time to work in their laboratory, if you demonstrate how important a research experience is to you.