Undergraduate Research

One advantage of attending the Johns Hopkins University is the opportunity to participate in research as an undergraduate student. Laboratories in biology, biophysics, chemistry, and engineering, as well as departments at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, regularly have openings for qualified undergraduates to participate in research that is sufficiently biological in nature to receive biology credit.

Students may earn up to 6 credits per academic year (June through May), with a maximum total of 24 credits applicable to the 120 needed for graduation. Up to 3 credit hours may be earned during each term (fall semester, spring semester, summer, or intersession).

More important than credits, research experience complements classroom education by teaching undergraduates laboratory skills and critical thinking. Ideally, students will move beyond accruing knowledge to actually contributing to knowledge. Biology research can only receive Satisfactory (S) or Unsatisfactory (U) grades.

Requirements for Undergraduate Research

Professors make a large investment of time and resources in students doing research in their laboratories. If you are thinking about working on a research project, you should first consider several important points:

  • Do you have adequate free time available? On average, it will require a minimum of 10 hours per week in the laboratory to earn 3 credits in a semester. It is most desirable that this time be available in a small number of large blocks; for example, three afternoons per week. Working on weekends may eventually be possible, but the initial phase will require you to be in the lab at the same time as those who are training you.
  • The second requirement is disciplined study habits. While dedicating at least 10 hours per week to research, you must be able to keep up with your courses.
  • The third requirement is long-term commitment. Professors expect students to work in their labs for more than one semester in order to make significant headway on a given research project. It usually takes several months of training before students are able to work with significant independence, so students must plan to work for at least a year in a specific lab.

How to Find a Research Position in a Lab

A student may perform biological research in a laboratory whose supervisor holds a faculty-level appointment at Johns Hopkins University. Once you determine what sort of biological research interests you, there are several ways to find a suitable research position.

One approach involves consulting the web pages of the relevant departments where lists of the faculty members and their research interests can be found. Another approach is to ask friends or acquaintances if they know of openings in any labs. From these sources, a student can choose several faculty members whose research is of interest to them. (Please keep in mind that if research is pursued in a lab outside the Department of Biology, the student will require a sponsor within the biology department who deems the research suitably biological; see below.) The student should then go to the web pages of those faculty members and locate the list of the professor’s current publications. Students can obtain these publications from the library or online and read one or two to gain further insights into the type of research carried out in different labs. Once you have prepared yourself, you should contact the faculty member to express interest and inquire if a position is available. Be brief and ask for an interview. Please do not spam the faculty—write to individuals. See this page of the advising website for more helpful tips on this process.

If the faculty member responds favorably, you should write a resume listing your academic qualifications, any previous lab experience, your course schedule (showing the time you have available for research), and bring this to the interview. Treat the interview like a job interview. If the professor has no room, ask if she or he knows of any other labs with openings.

How to Register for Undergraduate Research

After finding a place in a research lab, you must register to receive academic credit. To register, students need to submit an Undergraduate Research/Independent Study/Internship supplemental form to the Registrar and a Contract for Students Conducting Independent Research for Credit form to the biology research sponsor. Students will sign up for 020.503–504 Introduction to Research in Biology (if a freshman or sophomore), or 020.513 or 020.514 Research Problems in Biology (if a junior or senior). Note that both forms require a short description of the intended project.

If the professor who will serve as lab mentor is a member of the biology department, the student registers in the research section under the professor’s name (see SIS for section listings). If the professor is not a member of the biology department, the student must find a faculty sponsor holding a full-time appointment in biology. In this case, the sponsor is usually the student’s academic adviser. The sponsor will advise the student on the suitability of the research project for credit in biology and, if deemed appropriate, the student registers for research in the sponsor’s section. At the end of the semester, the biology sponsor assigns the final grade for the student and the credits earned. If the lab mentor is outside of biology, both student and mentor fill out the Summary Report of Independent Work form and transmit it to the biology sponsor. The student is responsible for ensuring that the Summary Report is received to the biology faculty sponsor by the deadline set by the sponsor; no grade will be recorded until it is received. All students must also write a paper that is a minimum of three single-spaced pages in length. The paper should be in the format of a scientific paper (i.e., introduction, materials and methods, results and conclusions). Relevant references to scientific literature must be included. The paper is to be submitted to and approved by the biology sponsor. Your lab mentor may request additional actions as well (e.g., discussing your research in lab meetings).