Ellen Zocher, a senior Biology major, prepares a petri dish full of the roundworm C. elegans to be examined under a higher power microscope.
Grad student Sarah Peterson, left, and Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez heading towards Bird Rocks in Rosario Strait, San Juan Islands, to tag harbor seals in order to record their diving behavior and movements. Photo by Kenady Wilson.
Western Washington University graduate student Rachael Mallon shows off a bright pinkish red sample of watermelon snow after collecting it in July 2017 at Sahale Peak east of Marblemount.
PSRF divers prepare to release juvenile abalone on the rocky reef systems of the San Juan islands
Getting Involved in Research in the Biology Department
Research experience is valuable for a number of reasons: it deepens your learning in a particular field of study; it teaches you how you can apply your biological knowledge to real world questions; it introduces you to cutting edge scientific techniques; it prepares you for success as a professional scientist; and it is highly valued by employers and professional/graduates schools. Participation in research can also lead to presentations of research at scientific meetings or co-authorship on professional research publications.
Undergraduate research opportunities in the Biology Department (BIOL 494, 495 and Independent Study) are available to any students who have an interest, depending on the availability of positions in a given faculty member’s research team. In addition, the Biology Department has a Master’s program for students who wish to continue their growth as scientists with the guidance and encouragement of a faculty member.
Undergraduate students can register for research credit (see below) or work as a volunteer. For qualifying students, research opportunities may also be possible through the work-study program; make sure to let your prospective research advisor know of your eligibility. You and the faculty member agree upon the number of research credits, the nature of your activities in the lab, and the expectations for your involvement as a professional on the research team.
It is never too early (or late!) to inquire about getting involved in research in the Biology Department at WWU.
Students interested in joining a research group should:
- Find a faculty member or graduate student who is doing research that interests you. An easy way to do this is to check out the Biology Department Faculty Directory to get a sense for the kinds of research their groups do.
- Once you’ve decided whose group you are interested in, reach out to the faculty member directly, in person or by email!
Information that you’ll want to provide in your email should include:
- An introduction to who you are (name, emphasis, anticipated graduation year/quarter or number of quarters you think you have left for doing research while at Western)
- A brief sentence that states why you are interested in pursuing research in general
- A brief explanation of what caught your eye about the research of the particular faculty member you are contacting
- An inquiry into whether there are currently available research opportunities with the research group and, if so, whether the faculty member might be willing to discuss these in person.
- Don’t be discouraged if there isn’t an available opportunity in a particular lab when you first inquire! Opportunities and openings may arise in the future, and there is a broad array of labs both in Biology and in other Departments at Western that are worth checking out. Also consider internship and volunteer opportunities outside Western at other academic institutions (e.g. via the NSF REU program), government agencies, non-governmental organizations, or private companies and industry (Check out Handshake). Research experience outside of WWU may be eligible for internship credit (BIOL 496 Professional Work Experience).
Earning Credit towards your Major for Research Participation:
The majority of undergraduate students earn university credit for participating in research. Each research credit is equal to ~3 hours of research work per week over the course of the academic quarter. While students may repeat a research course multiple times up to a certain limit (please refer to the university catalog), students may only apply a limited number of credits earned to their major requirements. You must consult your faculty advisor and review the graduation checklist for your specific area of study.
Biol 395 Biology Research Participation (1-4 credits; repeatable to a maximum of 6 credits)
Prerequisite: permission of instructor. Participation in biology research under the direction of a biology professor. The experience may include assisting in the maintenance of experimental setup, data collection, data entry, literature searches and developing graphics.
Biol 494 Biology Research (1-5 credits; repeatable to a maximum of 8 credits)
Prerequisite: Phase II major status and permission of instructor. Individual or collaborative research, including design and implementation of a research project, working under the tutelage of a biology professor.
Biol 495 Research Communication (1-4 credits; repeatable to a maximum of 6 credits)
Prerequisite: Biol 494; Phase II major status and permission of instructor. Analysis and written and/or oral presentation of results of individual scientific research. Communication can be in the form of a full scientific paper, a poster, or an oral presentation. Number of credits is dependent on the form of communication.