Undergraduate Research & Internships

Engage with your academic interests on a whole new level

Getting Started

An excellent way for new students to learn about the wide range of research occurring at Washington University is to enroll during their first semester in Biology 181, "First-Year Seminar in Biology," a one-unit course in which different faculty members discuss the current work in their laboratories. The related course Biology 1810 “First-Year Seminar in Imaging Sciences” has a similar format but focuses in depth on biological imaging. The seminar course, "Introduction to Problem-Based Learning in Biology" (Biol 112), provides training in the use of research literature to solve problems; topics change from year to year. 

Students in the life sciences who wish to participate in research during the academic year may register for Biology 200, "Introduction to Research," if first-years or sophomores, or Biology 500, "Independent Work," if juniors or seniors. Normally research students register for three units of credit, the equivalent of one course, committing themselves to 9-12 hours of lab work, plus preparation, every week.

Finding a Research Lab

There are several ways that Washington University students can get help in finding a research lab:

Participating in research in an area that has sparked one's interest can be the most engaging part of undergraduate study.

Internships

Experience in the Life Sciences (Bio 265)

This course provides an opportunity to earn credit for non-classroom learning in the life sciences. A wide variety of activities qualify. For example, students might accompany a physician on rounds and prepare a paper on a specific organ system or disease, or participate in a field or ecological study and report on the findings. Participants must arrange to work with a supervisor with whom they will meet on a regular basis. Biol 265 does not count toward upper-division credits required for the major. Credit/No Credit only. The course may be repeated for a maximum of 6 units.

Bio 265 Course Website

MedPrep Program (Parts I and II) (Bio 2651/2654)

MedPrep I is a unique lecture series designed specifically for students considering a career in medicine. There is no outside coursework and no exams. Through a 2-hour weekly lecture, this course gives students accurate, honest, and detailed information regarding every step of the application and admissions process to medical school. MedPrep I is particularly useful for freshmen and sophomores in that it gives students a roadmap and strategy for their four years of college and reviews the common pitfalls encountered by unsuccessful applicants. MedPrep II – The Shadowing Experience, which offers students a real-life, behind-the-scenes experience of a life in medicine. For three hours every other week, students shadow physicians in the Charles F. Knight Emergency and Trauma Center of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the main teaching hospital of the Washington University School of Medicine.

The MedPrep Program

Pediatric Emergency Medicine Research Associated Program (PEMRAP)

PEMRAP offers undergraduate pre-medical students an opportunity to participate in clinical, patient-oriented research projects in a hospital setting. Students work in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Emergency Department, a nationally recognized pediatric emergency medicine and trauma care facility. A number of research projects are currently underway in various areas of pediatric emergency medicine, including asthma, fluid management in dehydration, procedural pain and sedation, cervical spine trauma, head injury, wound care, and fracture healing.

Explore the PEMRAP Program

Introduction to Health Professions (Bio2656)

This course provides students interested in Health Professions with an overview of Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Audiology. Students will gain a better understanding of the scope of practice, markets, and skills required to succeed in these professions. Students will learn about graduate and professional education options and how to build a competitive application for these programs. Finally, students will be introduced to field experiences in each area and culminate their study with an inter-professional education session illustrating the role of each of the professions in a single case. Students will finish the course with a better understanding of whether a career in health professions is right for them.

Office of Undergraduate Research

Want to learn more? Find many more details about research options, funding & programs, and opportunities to share your research via the Office of Undergraduate Research.

Office of Undergraduate Research

Research Courses and Fellowships at WU/WUMS

Girls must learn to see themselves as scientists

"We must encourage interest in science and math subjects without surprise or foreboding and empower young girls to pursue these interests in multiple facets of their academic and extracurricular lives. If we can connect young girls’ aptitude for STEM subjects to their personal ability to succeed in these fields in the future and share our hope to increase numbers of women in STEM, they will hear how much their talents are needed."

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Bio 500 Research Spotlight: Kevin Yin on the Rentschler Lab

In the Rentschler lab, we aim to address heart disease by looking at how developmental pathways and gene regulation networks are associated with various heart diseases. We are specifically interested in how alterations of genes during development or in the adult can lead to arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Biology 200/500 Details

The Biology Department's purpose in offering undergraduate research is to allow students to gain experience using the scientific method to solve problems of scientific importance. This experience includes acquiring technical skills, reading and evaluating articles in the scientific literature that are relevant to the project being undertaken, designing and conducting experiments, learning to evaluate experimental data in relation to existing knowledge, and expanding skills in communicating results of research both orally and in writing. Biol 200 offers research experiences to students who have completed less than 60 units of credit at the time of enrollment, whereas Biol 500 provides research experiences in a similar format to students who have completed at least 60 units of credit at the time of enrollment. Biol 500 and Biol 500A are the same course; each prospective research mentor has an assigned section number in either Biol 500 or Biol 500A. The following information regarding Biol 500 applies equally to Biol 500A. A student may take only one of these course numbers per semester, with credit not to exceed 3 units per semester.

Students in Biol 200/500 conduct projects with defined goals. Often the goals may not be achievable in one semester. Students should have the opportunity to read relevant scientific literature and to receive help evaluating such past research efforts. Students present periodic oral reports on their research progress to the mentor's research group. Working full time in the summer significantly enhances the value of the research experience. In this circumstance, students are usually supported by fellowships or the mentor's research funds.

Students normally enroll for 3 units of credit. Students should expect to work 9-12 hours/week performing research to earn 3 units. Preparation for lab, data reduction and reading usually require additional time at home. (In this sense at least, the introduction to research is realistic.) Students are cautioned, however, not to become so absorbed in their research that coursework is neglected. Single-minded concentration on research is the norm when working in the lab full time in summers.

Students find or are referred to active and productive laboratories, ones in which good work is done and then published. Often, but not invariably, mentors with a productive scientific history will have research grants that allow them to gather a critical mass of post-docs and graduate students who make a crucial contribution to the intellectual life of the research group. However, students are advised to avoid laboratories that are so large that the undergraduate might get lost in the shuffle.

Enrollment may be processed at any time but preferably prior to the start of the semester in which the work will be done. Reduced credit can be obtained for work started within the semester if approved by Professor Olsen. Extra time should be allowed for approval of any proposed work involving pathogens; such approval must be completed before the student begins work.

Enrollment Details

"Joining the biology department at WashU opened me up to a whole world of scientific collaboration and mentorship. Through my research, I discovered my love for creating new knowledge and now want to include research in my future career. Because of the supportive environment, I feel comfortable approaching any faculty for advice or with questions. Overall, WashU’s biology department has invigorated my love for academic research and is setting me up to succeed."

―Sneha ChaturvediNeuroscience, class of 2019

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