Nationwide studies highlight participating in a mentored research experience as one of most beneficial activities for undergraduate students. Participating in research is important to understanding the scientific research process, increasing participant confidence in research skills, increasing awareness of graduate school opportunities, and clarifying science career expectations. Most of our undergraduate students participate in research during their B.S. degree.
Undergraduate research in bioinformatics at VCU starts freshmen year in the Phage Lab. This year-long course (BNFO 251/252) is the introductory biology laboratory for bioinformatics majors. In this course-based research experience, students discover and characterize their own virus (bacteriophage, or simply 'phage') from a soil sample. We sequence the genomes of some of those viruses, and then students learn the bioinformatics approach through examining the genes of sequenced phages and completing comparative genomics projects of their own design. If you're a transfer student or change of major and already completed your BIOZ 151/152 requirement, we encourage you to talk to us about whether you should enroll in BNFO 252 as an introduction to the major. You'll leave the Phage Lab with a solid set of microbiology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics research skills, ready to enter into a faculty mentored research experience.
Faculty Mentored Research
Many students engage in faculty mentored research in a laboratory at VCU. Participation in research is usually initiated by the student communicating with faculty about their interest in the faculty member's lab, with the student working as a volunteer or for academic credit. VCU has many resources to help you find a research experience, such as Tips on preparing for undergraduate research.
VCU Undergraduate Research Coordinator Herb Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org) directs the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities program and works with students to identify opportunities, print posters, provide travel for attending scientific meetings, and many other things.
Center faculty are happy to help you get started, and our advisor, Lian Currie, can help you arrange for independent study credits.
Research Opportunities Outside of VCU
Research opportunities are not limited to what is available on campus. Research institutions offer summer research programs that are open to outside students. Look for opportunities online, and prepare for application deadlines may be in the early winter. Many university-hosted summer research programs are supported by the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. These programs typically last 8-10 weeks, include a stipend and offer housing or help you arrange accommodations. Programs like this are run by faculty at the host institution and have their own unique scientific themes and application processes.