Undergraduate research

Fudan University is one of the greatest research universities in the world. As a student, you can join this research activities by either volunteering, or taking the directed research for course credit (please check back later for course registration numbers), or student employment. Although each student’s research experience is going to be unique, these opportunities will be a chance to make scientific discoveries and develop interpersonal relationships with both faculties and other students.

Doing authentic research will also help you gain a deeper understanding of science as a whole by applying concepts and techniques that you have learned in your class to the real world. Additionally, research allows you to understand the joys and challenges of working in a lab. You will also have the opportunity to develop both interpersonal skills such as teamwork, communication, and leadership.

Interested in directed research? Listen to the advice from current undergraduate students for fellow undergraduates considering directed research. Watch the complete 5-minute video about the TSI undergraduate research experience. Or check out individual student stories by clicking on the links below.

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Roadmap to research

The goal of this roadmap is to get you started in undergraduate research, but we have also included links to other opportunities.

These steps are intended as a preliminary source of information and guidance towards research. It is not a substitute for meeting and talking with faculty to discuss what interests and engages you the most.

Best wishes as you map your plan!

Step one: Identify approach

There are many approaches you might take to expand your experience in biology beyond the classroom. As a student at a major research institution, you have the exciting prospect of doing research in a research lab or field setting to gain valuable experience. You could do this for pay, credit, or on a volunteer basis. Another approach may be to start an internship off campus which may include research or may instead focus on aspects of a career in biology such as vaccine production or dolphin training. All of these experiences may help you qualify for the graduate or professional school of your choice or help you land a job of your interest when you graduate. And they are fun. Those of us writing these words recall these experiences as highlights in our undergraduate life. Enjoy them too!

Volunteer
If you don’t have ANY experience outside the classroom, this might be the way to start. As a volunteer, you would gain experience without asking the lab or mentor to invest financial resources. However, please realize that they will still investing their most precious resource – their time on you. Also, you are investing your most precious resource – your time on your future. You must enter a volunteer experience with the same commitment you would any other.

Course credit
It is possible to earn course credit while learning about biology in action. For students with little experience, enrolling in the Biology Intensive Orientation Summer can be a good start. For students with more advanced coursework, directed research will be the best route. This experience will expand your sphere of interactions, and help you to see how science actually progresses. In addition, if you plan to attend a post-graduate program (e.g., vet school, med school, dental school, grad school, etc.), your faculty advisor for your project may be able to write a letter of recommendation for you. Students can also earn credit for an internship experience by registering, with the approval, for XXXX (please check back later for course registration numbers).

iGEM — Each year in the fall the Synthetic Biology community organizes a premiere undergraduate competition (iGEM, international Genetically Engineered Machines competition) where student teams from different schools across the world present projects that they have designed and worked on during the previous 6 months. Students use genetic parts developed by previous groups and new parts of their own design to build biological systems and operate them in living cells.

Grants and awards
There are a variety of grants and awards available that can help support you and your research. These differ in competitiveness, amount of the award, and steps required for the application. Securing one of these awards is wonderful in and of itself, but it is also looked upon very favorably by future employers as well as graduate- and professional-school selection committees.

Internships
The goal of internships is to gain experience in a particular field. Internships can be a great way to see the practical applications of your biology coursework. Internships are often off-campus experiences, and they can be research-based or they may focus on career skills beyond research.

Step two: Identify interests

Consider the following when trying to figure out the general type of research that you would like to indulge yourself in:

  1. Which topics in your courses have you liked the most?
  2. Which courses have you enjoyed the most?
  3. What are your long-term career goals?
  4. What have other students tried? Check out the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  5. What other types of experiences have other students explored? See what TSI interns are doing.

Three ways you might “slice the pie” as you think about your areas of interest. Choose your favorite(s) in each categories:

Level of organization:
Molecular
Subcellular
Cellular
Organ system
Organism
Population
Interacting population
Ecosystem

Organism type:
Viruse
Microorganism
Plant
Animal
Fungus

Ways to work:
Using numbers
Using computers
Doing observations
Working in a lab
Working in the field
Working directly with people

Discipline

  • Behavior
  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Biology
  • Development
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Sciences
  • Evolution
  • Genetics
  • Medical Science
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Neuroscience
  • …and more

Step three: Research

Choose a few (3 to 5) potential faculty members that you might like to work with. In most cases, you can visit the website of the chosen department (from phase 2),which will have a listing of the faculty, and a brief description of each person’s research. Alternatively, you may need to go the departmental office, and ask a secretary if such a listing exists. Or, you can visit the website of the graduate program(s) that are administered by a particular department, and these usually have brief descriptions of faculties’ research interests as well.

Try to pick a few faculty members that seem to do interesting research to you. It is likely that not every faculty member will be able to take a new student into his or her lab. That’s why you need to pick a few different faculty members to ensure that at least one of them will have an opening.

Step four: Make contact

First impressions
It would be really beneficial that if you do your homework and make a good first impression. Once you’ve chosen a few faculty members, you should obtain a couple of recent publications of each of them and read them. Usually, the website of a faculty member will list their most recent publications, or you can do a literature search on PubMed, Medline, JSTOR, etc. Focus on recent papers, as this should give you a better idea of what’s going on in the lab right now. You may not understand a lot of what’s written in a research paper, but you will understand some of it, and it will help to bolster your view that you want to work in someone’s lab, or it may eliminate particular choices. After you have read some papers, call the faculty member and ask to set up an appointment to discuss their research.

Here is what you shouldn’t do: E-mail a faculty member with a two-line e-mail asking them if they have any directed research openings. It’s really easy to reject such an e-mail.

A successful interview
Once you have arrived at the point that a faculty member will set up an appointment with you, there are a few points to consider at the interview:

  1. Again, remind them that you read their papers.
  2. Make it crystal clear that you chose them because you are interested in their research.
  3. Make it clear regarding your time commitment. A biology colloquium project typically involves 3 hours per week for one semester. However, for directed research, it is really helpful if you can commit to a minimum of two semesters, 10-15 hours per week. Volunteer and employment opportunities will have varying time commitments.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  5. Be serious but enthusiastic.

Step five: Create a plan

Now that you have an idea of what you want to do, who you want to do it with, and have even contacted the researcher/internship coordinator, how will you set this all up? Develop a plan.

Volunteer
To volunteer in a research lab, you must understand that no one will be interested in a volunteer that comes and goes on their own whim and schedule. Thus, you must be willing to commit specific hours and be able to assure the researcher that you will follow through on this commitment. Being extremely clear about expectations from the beginning will help you avoid problems later on.

Grants and awards
There are a variety of grants and awards available that can help support you and your research. These can differ in competitiveness, amount of the award, and steps required for the application. Securing one of these awards is wonderful in and of itself, but it is also looked upon very favorably by future employers as well as graduate- and professional-school selection committees.

Internships
The defining characteristics of an internship include a learning component, guidance and supervision, and active reflection about the experience as it occurs. Internships come in a multitude of shapes and sizes: some are paid, some are not; some require that you earn academic credit, others leave that up to you; length of time commitment and schedule vary; application processes vary too, so start investigating your options early!

Read about students’ recent professional learning experiences.

Step six: Success

Success in research is not always easy. Sometimes you can work really hard and nothing turns out the way you want. Other times, you can make a mistake and it turns out to be a gold mine. You need to enter into a research experience with the attitude that there are no guarantees, and that it may be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. It may help to recall the words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” To increase the probability of a successful research experience, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Be reliable. Show up when you say you’re going to show up.
  2. Don’t be sloppy. Be careful when handling solutions, etc. It really makes people mad if they have to clean up your messes.
  3. Don’t try to cover up your mistakes.
  4. Focus on what you’re doing. Research may involve a long series of tedious tasks. Pay attention. Write things down.
  5. Ask a lot of questions… even if you think they’re dumb questions.
  6. Try to get to know everyone in the lab.
  7. Try to get to know your faculty advisor.
  8. Have fun.
  9. Communicating your results: And once you have gotten some results, how do you communicate them to others? Lab meetings: There are many different approaches to lab meetings, but typically they involve weekly meetings to discuss what’s going on in the lab, to read and discuss relevant papers, and to address any concerns within the group. Participating in your group’s lab meetings can be a great way to get to know your group members, to gain experience giving scientific presentations (in a casual setting), and to help you feel part of a bigger picture.