Undergraduate Research


Thanks to a generous gift from the estate of Robert Schwager, 2021 Summer Research Scholarships are available to support UVa Biology majors to conduct research in a Department of Biology laboratory on grounds at UVa, or at the Mountain Lake Biological Station under the direction of a Biology faculty research advisor. Award criteria are based on academic merit and demonstrated potential to successfully undertake the proposed research. Applicants must have declared a Biology major prior to the application deadline and must work in a Department of Biology laboratory or at the MLBS. We expect to award up to 8 Schwager Scholarships this summer. Each award will provide up to $5,000 as summer wages to support 10 weeks of research.  Awards are contingent on undergraduates being allowed to work in person in Biology research labs or at the MLBS. Scholars are not required to enroll in BIOL 4920, Independent Research during the summer. Students currently pursuing independent research projects are eligible to apply, but students with no prior research experience are also encouraged to apply in order to initiate a research project that could be potentially continued during the upcoming 2021-22 academic year. Students interested in beginning a research project this summer should contact potential Biology faculty mentors, indicating the possibility of scholarship support. Scholarship recipients will submit a report at the end of the summer describing their research project. Previous Schwager Scholarship recipients are ineligible for continued support. Additional information on how to find a research mentor can be found on this page.

To apply, please submit a copy of your UVa advising transcript, a brief summary of your proposed research, not to exceed 2 pages, and a letter of endorsement from your prospective research mentor to the Biology Undergraduate Coordinator ([email protected]) by 5PM Friday, April 9, 2021.


We do not expect undergraduates will be allowed to work in research labs during the 2021 semester. Research labs are following a 3 step, phased, reopening process established by the Vice President for Research. All labs are currently in phase I which limits them to a minimal number of essential personnel who can be in a lab at the same time. The process to move to phase II which expands the number of personnel who can work in labs, has not begun and given significant increases in new COVID-19 cases, there is currently no timeframe for when phase II will begin. Undergraduates cannot work in research labs until phase III and the VPR has informed us that it is extremely unlikely that this will occur by the start of the spring semester. Moreover, undergraduate access to research labs even in phase III is likely to be limited. We know this significantly impacts those of you who already have, or who are planning to enroll in BIOL 4910/4920 for the spring 2021 semester, particularly students intending to participate in the Biology Distinguished Major Program and/or to use independent research to satisfy Biology major lab requirements. Therefore:

Students will be able to pursue virtual research projects at the discretion of, and under the direction of, faculty research mentors and receive credit for BIOL 4910/4920 for the spring semester. Examples of such virtual projects could include, but are not limited to, critical analyses of pertinent scientific literature, computational modeling, or database analyses.

It is entirely up to individual faculty if they want to direct students on a virtual project. Some faculty will do so, others will not. This is no different than faculty opting to have students work in their labs. We recommend you contact potential research advisors, or follow up with your current advisor before the start of the spring semester to see if this is an option. If so, students working with Biology faculty can enroll in BIOL 4920 with instructor permission as noted below. Students working with medical school faculty or in labs outside the biology department will need to enroll in BIOL 4910 following the procedures noted below.

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

Once you have made an arrangement to work with a faculty member outside the Biology Department, you need to request permission for BIOL 4910 in SIS under Professor Martin Wu. Then, please fill out the Independent Research questionnaire here. You will be directed to a form that you need to fill out. Once we receive verification from your mentor that it is ok for you to work in their lab, Professor Wu will either ok your enrollment or request further information. You then need to accept the enrollment in SIS.

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