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Undergraduate Research Experiences

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Why Should I Get Involved With Research?

Involvement with ongoing research can truly enhance your undergraduate career. Whether you plan to attend graduate school, a professional school, or to work in industry, a lab or field research experience will expand your understanding of what you learn in the classroom and strengthen your problem solving skills. It will also develop your ability to work both independently and with others in the lab group. Additionally, you will make contacts with faculty members, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows who can help guide your future career decisions.

We have a very active undergraduate research program. Many Penn State biology majors work with faculty in the Biology and other partner departments on problems that affect society today: ecological effects of climate change; infectious diseases; evolutionary genomics. Research experiences are extremely varied depending on the lab you are working with and your interests. Undergraduates work in research labs during the regular academic year, over the summer, or both.

Interested in trying your hands in research?  Here are some ways to get involved:

Special Research Programs

Erickson Discovery Grants: Summer Scholarship Support Undergraduate Research Projects

McNair Scholars Program: First Generation College Students or Underrepresented Groups

MURE: Minority Undergraduate Research Experience

WISER: Women in Science and Engineering Research

Research for Credit (Independent Study)
BIOL 296/496 provides students with credits for completing independent study research with a faculty member at Penn State.

Follow these steps to secure a research position:

  1. Create a list of potential faculty members with whom you may wish to work.  Biology faculty research labs,  ECOS faculty, and the Huck Institute of Life Sciences offer excellent opportunities.  You may also want explore the websites of other life science-focused departments. Students have successfully completed research in Entomology, Nutrition, Animal Science, Anthropology, Plant Pathology, Poultry Science, Psychology, and Biobehavioral Health to name a few other options.

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  2. Contact the faculty you identified by email, in person, or by phone.   Be specific about your intention to do research in that particular lab.  Do not send generic email messages as this is an ineffective way to contact faculty members.
  3. If you choose to work with a Biology faculty member, register for BIOL296/496 by completing the proper registration form (pdf or accessible Word doc). This form is also available in The Biology Undergraduate Advising Office.  If you choose to work with a faculty member outside of Biology, please contact that specific department for further instructions how to register for research credit(s).


Research through a Co-op Experience

The Cooperative Education Program (co-op) in ECoS allows students to integrate the Penn State education with related work experience. Students involved with co-op alternate semesters of classes with semesters of work place experiences at places like GlaxcoSmithKline and the National Institute of Health. Students involved with co-op are enrolled in SC 295, 395, or 495 and maintain full-time status.  For information, please visit the Office of Science Engagement in 211 Ritenour Building or by phone: 814-865-5000.


Research through Internships and Externships

students on microscopeExternships are “day in the life” observations in a student’s area of interest.  Positions are short-term, one to four days, after freshman or sophomore year. Internships are longer periods of experience than externships, typically offered in the summer. These positions are open to any student in ECoS, although certain positions and employers will have minimum GPA requirements and major and/or course preferences. Please see the staff in the Office of Science Engagement in 211 Ritenour Building or by phone at 814-865-5000 for more information.