Getting Involved in Research 

Zoology alumni rate undergraduate research as one of the top academic experiences they had at UW. The Zoology Department endorses undergraduate research as one of the most potentially rewarding aspects of the undergraduate experience.

Each research project is based on an individual agreement between you and a research mentor. Your research mentor will help you define a research problem, design experiments, and interpret results. Students often work closely with a graduate student, post-doctoral associate, or other member of the lab. You will be expected to work in a team, to adapt to a specific research topic, and to meet deadlines.

UW expects students to put in an average of 45 hours (3hrs/week) to receive one research credit. Students can take 1-6 credits of research each semester, but the typical enrollment is 2-3 credits. Given the amount of training time required to bring you up to speed in the lab, many research mentors look for students who are willing to participate in another semester in their lab.

Faculty campus-wide may sponsor you for undergraduate research. To narrow your search, think about which areas of biology you would be most excited to learn about. Reading journals, science news, and talking to your professors and TA’s can help you define your interests.

To approach a potential faculty mentor, you may write a brief email or make a phone call requesting a meeting with the researcher. You will want to include some or all of the following information:

  • You are seeking an undergraduate research experience
  • Your motivation for working in the particular area (demonstrate that you have read about their research interests)
  • Your level of commitment and availability (include hours per week and potential number of semesters)
  • If you are considering completing or preparing to complete a senior thesis or senior honors thesis
  • One page resume including coursework, grades, work experiences, special interests (or include a brief outline of this info in the email if you’re still working on the resume)
  • Request a meeting and include a few different blocks of time that you will be available
  • If you do not get a response within 3 days, consider following up with an email or phone call

Keep in mind that some faculty may not be able to take a student for whatever reason. Be prepared to repeat the process a few times-tailoring your email slightly for each individual you contact.

Before you meet with a potential mentor, be somewhat knowledgeable about her or his work. You can often find abstracts, or publication lists on the researcher’s webpage. This will help to make your interaction more positive and productive.

Your potential mentor will want to find out more about you before they commit to working with you in the lab. They may ask about your interests, motivations, preparation, and expectations. This is your opportunity to do the same. Ask questions about the projects currently going on, possibilities where you could fit in, who would supervise your work, whether he/she has had undergraduates working in their lab before, and anything else you’re curious about. If it seems like a good match, ask if they would agree to be your mentor for one of the projects!

If a faculty mentor accepts you as an undergraduate researcher in their lab, you will need to enroll in a Directed Study (or Thesis, if applicable). To enroll in a Directed Study/Thesis (Zoology 199, 299, 681, 682, 691, 692, 698, or 699), you must fill out this Course Authorization Form and have your faculty mentor sign it. Once signed, turn the form into 152 or 156 Birge Hall and a department advisor will grant you permission to enroll. You must enroll through your student center using the section number of the course that will be provided to you via email.