Independent Undergraduate Research

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Independent Research

Independent research experiences offer students a taste of laboratory research. Students have an opportunity to transform knowledge learned in the classroom into tangible skills and to experience science as an evolving truth. Under the supervision of Neuroscience faculty, students develop valuable scientific techniques and problem solving skills while learning to function independently in a laboratory setting.

Students can work in a laboratory setting through several mechanisms. Interested students should do online research and read faculty and lab web pages to get a sense of the kind of research being done on campus. They should then read recent articles from those labs they think they are most interested in. Inquiries for laboratory research can be made directly to faculty. Undergraduates pursuing a BS or honors in Neuroscience will be required to complete experimental research within a laboratory setting.

 

Neuroscience Research Internship

Neuroscience Research Metcalf Internships provide opportunities for students to conduct independent research during the summer. This opportunity is designed to allow first, second, and third year students majoring in Neuroscience the opportunity to try out research in a neuroscience laboratory. It is only through directly experiencing the joys and tribulations of the research process that students can discover their own affinity for and interest in laboratory work.

Students must work with a UChicago faculty member (= Principal Investigator or PI) to develop a project that is both important and feasible within the confines of this 10-week program. Once accepted, student interns are expected to work full-time in a Neuroscience laboratory on campus, toward completion of their proposed project. Interns must also participate in weekly meetings with Professors Peggy Mason, the Neuroscience Major Director, and Elizabeth Grove, the Neuroscience Honors Director.

The 10-week program occurs during the summer quarter. Students may not register for any courses during this 10-week summer Fellowship. Students will receive a $4,000 stipend.

Applications for the Neuroscience Research are due in spring and are through Handshake. Watch here for dates and details.

 

Finding a Research Mentor

If you are looking for a laboratory to work in, you need to get an opportunity and you have to stand out to get that opportunity. You will have to write to several faculty members because the response rate will not be 100%. I suggest contacting up to ten faculty members and interviewing with several, hopefully 3-5.

Go to the neuroscience faculty page and identify at least ten faculty members of interest. In addition, not everyone will be taking students right now. So make a big list. Then check the lab websites for each person that you may be interested in. Through that process, you should be able to narrow down your list to 8-10.

If you want help identifying faculty members to work with, contact the Major Director (neuromajor@uchicago.edu) or the Honors Director (neurohonors@uchicago.edu). Include the following information in the email:

Do you have any lab experience? If so, what did you like and what did you not like?
Topics of interest to you
Level of investigation that appeals to you – biochemistry, molecular biology, anatomy, electrophysiology, modeling, behavior, genetics and so on.
Labs that you think you may or may not be interested in
One of us will get back to you and help you come up with a list of possible research mentors. Once you have this list, read up on each faculty member’s work. Educate yourself. Know something about the laboratory before approaching the PI (Principal Investigator aka laboratory head).

To get to the interview stage, you need a good cover letter. The cover letter should be concise. Less than a page and 2-3 paragraphs is ideal. Here are some guidelines on how to write one.

First of all, address the letter to Dr _____ or Prof ______. This holds regardless of the degree that the faculty member holds (MD or PhD) and also regardless of the rank of the faculty member (Assistant, Associate, or Full). Do not address a faculty member as Mr or Ms or Mrs or by any informal salutation.
State your vitals: year, major or majors, interest in research experience during the academic year or during the summer. If you are interested in finding a mentor for a Neuroscience Metcalf or Honors project over the summer, then state that.
Briefly in about 3 sentences say what interests you about the faculty member’s work
State that you have experience in past labs or alternatively that you are eager to learn
Ask whether the faculty member would be willing to speak with you about the possibility of working with them.
State your long-term career goals (e.g. biotech, pharma, academic research, medicine, or you’re not sure).
Hopefully you will get several interviews. Practice with a friend answering questions such as Why do you want to do research? What is your particular interest in neuroscience? What are your career goals? Tell me about your previous research (if applicable). What draws you to this laboratory? As you practice answering these questions, listen to yourself. Try not to pepper your speech with filler-words such as like and you know. Doing so makes one sound inarticulate. Think about how you are saying what you are saying. There is no need to rush your answers. Be thoughtful and articulate. Show your enthusiasm.

If you are lucky to get more than one offer, then talk to the members of the respective laboratories. Visit the laboratories. Go someplace where you feel comfortable. Comfortable begets productivity.

Good luck!!

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