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Undergraduate Research

We think the best way to learn science is by doing science! Many of our undergraduate students participate in faculty-mentored research. Please talk to Dr. Emery, Dr. Johnson or any of our faculty if you want to get started!

Undergraduate Research

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.

Phage Lab

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 wtih 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 (hhill@vcu.edu) 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.

Dr. Johnson, Dr. Emery or your favorite CSBC faculty are happy to help you get started too, and Dr. Emery can help you arrange for independent study credits.

Research Opportunities Outside of VCU

Research opportunities aren't 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 accomodations. Programs like this are run by faculty at the host institution and have their own unique scientific themes and application processes.

Summer Research Opportunities for Bioinformatics Majors at VCU

CSBC will fund one summer 2017 research stipend for an undergraduate enrolled in the bioinformatics program at VCU. This stipend will support one student to spend their summer investigating a project of their design.

Eligibility: Open to currently enrolled bioinformatics undergraduates receiving a Bachelors degree May 2018 or later.

Award: $3000 stipend.

Application: Your application should include these parts:

  1. a proposal describing your intended research project
  2. a letter of support from your research mentor
  3. a personal statement describing your past involvement in research
  4. a statement where you agree to submit a mid-term project report by August 15, 2017, and to present your work at a research symposium of your/your mentor's choosing (can simply include on the bottom of your cover page).

The proposal should be written by the student, with advice from the mentor. An example of a well-written Undergraduate research proposal is provided. Proposals submitted in reference to this summer research position will be submitted directly to us and evaluated independently from the VCU UROP Summer Undergraduate Fellowship program. You can apply to both programs! But, please do not apply for the CSBC summer research slot through the UROP fellowship process.

Note we are not currently offering financial support for travel to a research symposium. Support for undergraduate participation is often available through application to the society hosting the meeting and through VCU UROP travel awards.

Deadline: We will begin reviewing proposals Monday March 20th (note later deadline vs. VCU UROP).

Your obligation: If you are selected, you should consider your research project to be the equivalent of a full time job. You should dedicate your summer to establishing your research project. Do not plan on participating in any conflicting activities such as working a summer job or enrolling in a class.

To apply for the fellowship, students must submit their completed application materials (including mentor's letter of support) by email to Allison Johnson or Jeff Elhai. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.


Virginia Commonwealth University | VCU Life Sciences | Center for the Study of Biological Complexity
Grace E. Harris Hall, Room 3102 | Box 842537 | Richmond, Virginia 23284 | Phone: (804) 827-0026
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