Undergraduate Research

Students are encouraged to consider Independent Research experiences as part of their Biology major. Research opportunities are available in many faculty laboratories at the University of Virginia, and course credit may be obtained for work in laboratories within the Biology Department, in some research laboratories in other departments in the College or in many research laboratories in the basic science departments in the Medical School.

For each semester of Independent Research (BIOL 4910 and 4920) students receive 2 credits. Students whose mentors are in the Biology Department should sign up for BIOL 4920 and those whose mentors are outside the Biology Department  should sign up for BIOL 4910. Instructions on how to enroll are given below. Two semesters of Independent Research completed in the same laboratory may be used to satisfy the Biology one laboratory course requirement for the B.A. major. Students may enroll once in either BIOL 4910 or 4920 course per semester or summer session term, and students are expected to stay within the same laboratory during any semester of BIOL 4910 or 4920.

Instructor permission is required for either BIOL 4910 or 4920; however, students are encouraged to talk with their research mentors to select other courses, such as one or more of the biology major core courses that may be relevant to their planned research project.

BIOL 4910 and 4920 are graded courses, with students expected to devote 10-12 hours per week in the laboratory. Grades in BIOL 4910 are assigned by the Biology Department Director of Independent Research, in consultation with the research mentor. 

Students with more than three semesters of independent research are encouraged to give a presentation of their work at a poster session. Poster sessions will be held at the end of the spring semester. These poster presentations can take the place of the written semester report. 

What Kind of Research Experience to Look For and How to Find an Independent Research Lab

As with all Biology 4000 level courses, the Biology Independent Research experience is expected to build upon knowledge from the Biology 3000 level core classes, with the addition of providing students with opportunities to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in every aspect of basic research:  formulating a hypothesis, designing and carrying out experiments to test that hypothesis and then analyzing the results of those experiments to extend or modify the hypothesis.  While observing clinical procedures and collating data from clinical trials may be a valuable experience for students focusing on careers in the health professions, independent studies in strictly clinical settings generally do not satisfy the requirements for Independent Research. 

With these guidelines in mind, you should look for faculty who conduct basic research in areas of biology that interest/excite you.  Within the Biology Department, start with the Research page of the Biology Department website.  Outside of the Department, start with the links to other departments that are listed below.  Once you have a list of possible research mentors, send each one an email to inquire about research opportunities.  In this email you should include information about yourself: what year are you, why are you interested in doing research, what is it about this faculty member's research that interests you in particular (this is important!), what relevant course and/or research experience have you had?  You might even want to attach a copy of your transcript.

Depending on when you send out these inquiries, it might be difficult to find the opportunity you are looking for.  So, make sure that you contact enough faculty.

Regulatory Issues For Students Working With Animals or Human Subject Research

These regulatory approvals can take considerable time to process- make sure your lab initiates the approval process for you early to avoid delays.

 Work with live animals requires Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) approval prior to initiating research. ‘Animals’ in this context includes all animals with a spine. For additional information contact your research mentor and this link: http://www.virginia.edu/vpr/iacuc/

Human subject research requires specific Institutional Review Board (IRB) approvals prior to initiating research.  Human subject research includes research with living subjects and work with human-derived data that can potentially be identifiable. For more specifics, contact your research mentor and this link: http://www.virginia.edu/vpr/irb/hsr/activities_require_review.html

How to Enroll in Independent Research with a Biology Department Faculty Member

Once you have made an arrangement to work with a faculty member (your research mentor) in the Biology Department, you need to request permission through SIS to enroll in the BIOL 4920 section that is associated with that faculty member.

How to Enroll in Independent Research with a Faculty Member Outside of the Biology Department

For Fall and Spring semesters (BIOL4910)

Before registering for BIOL4910 on SIS,  students must obtain verbal consent from a professor outside of the department of biology for mentorship in their laboratory.  The potential mentor must hold a title of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor in any departments or programs at UVA (Research Assistant Professors, Research Associates, and Graduate Students are excluded).  Your research topic must be in the field of broadly defined biology (clinical studies are excluded).   SIS registered students will receive a form on which they enter information about their mentors and their official approval for mentorship.

For Summer sessions (BIOL4910) 

Once you have made an arrangement to work with a faculty member outside the Biology Department, please contact Assoc. Prof. Dave Kittlesen by email ([email protected]) instead of completing the application form mentioned above for fall and spring semesters. Please see the Summer Session web site https://summer.virginia.edu for tuition fees and the summer calendar.

Scholarships and Fellowship Opportunities

Please visit the Center for Undergraduate Excellence's page for opportunities for Scholarships and Fellowships or their Undergraduate Research page for finding research opportunities.

Other Departments for Independent Research Opportunities

Environmental Sciences


Basic Science Departments in the School of Medicine

·        Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics

·        Molecular Physiology & Biological Physics

·        Microbiology, Immunology & Cancer Biology

·        Cell Biology

·        Neuroscience

·        Pathology

·        Pharmacology