Experiential learning through research

Independent research on faculty projects is a direct way for students to experience real discovery. Studies show that the benefits of performing undergraduate research are numerous (eg. Lopatto, 2007).

In particular, students report increased gains in independence, motivation to learn, and clarification, confirmation and refinement of career path. Some students even go on to co-author scientific papers with their research mentor.

Research for academic credit

BIOL:3994 (Introduction to Research)

One credit hour is equivalent to three to five hours per week of research in a lab. Most students sign up for two to three credit hours of research. You are responsible for finding a research mentor but the research projects are guided (i.e. you don’t have to think up a project on your own).

BIOL:4999 (Honors Investigations)

Limited to students with a UI grade-point average (GPA) greater than or equal to 3.33 and a UI biology major GPA greater than or equal to 3.25.

One credit hour is equivalent to three to five hours per week of research in a lab. Most students sign up for two to three credit hours of research.

You are responsible for finding a research mentor but the research projects are guided (i.e. you don’t have to think up a project on your own). Research credit can be used towards the biology honors program.

Potential sources of funding

Finding a research mentor

Check out departmental websites and scan the list of faculty profiles:

Email is a good way to make initial contact with potential mentors. By sending an email you give the mentor a chance to review your materials before responding. It is like the first step in an interview, so be sure it reflects your best effort (no spelling or grammatical errors!). If you are comfortable, it is also OK to phone or stop by a potential mentor’s office to ask about scheduling a time to meet to discuss any potential openings for a research experience but an e-mail is a preferable way of approaching a future mentor.

Some things to consider when composing emails:

  • Research mentors are very busy people, so keep it short and to the point (approximately one paragraph).
  • Address the email using the mentor’s official title (e.g. Professor, Dr.)
  • Do your homework before you shoot off an e-mail!  You should know about what kind of research the lab does. For instance, check out publications that the faculty member has before contacting the lab. Specifically refer to the mentor’s research, and what you find interesting about it.
  • Be clear that you are looking for a research experience and what your main goal will be to do an undergraduate research project.
  • Highlight what you have to offer; what distinguishes you from other students (e.g. hard worker, experience, eager to learn, willing to stay more than one semester, persistent, specific courses you’ve completed that are relevant to the research).
  • Show enthusiasm for learning how to do research!

DO NOT write: “Hey, I’m interested in doing research in your lab. Do you have any openings? Thanks.”

Additional information you could include in an attached letter:

  • Your course schedule for the semester showing blocks of time where you have time for research.
  • An electronic transcript (an unofficial degree audit is fine).

  • Be on time.
  • Be enthusiastic and motivated.
  • Be ready to discuss why you want to do research in general (what are your academic and career goals?), and why you want to do research with this mentor specifically (what is it about his/her research that is interesting to you? Is there a particular project on which you would like to work?).
  • Read about the research BEFORE you go to the interview. There is usually a research overview on the web with references/links to the group’s published papers. Try to read one or two of these papers, and prepare some questions about them. Generally, mentors won’t expect you to fully understand the research, but making the effort to learn about it on your own shows independence and motivation.
  • Ask about the expectations of undergraduate researchers in the group (time commitment, credits, type of work).
  • Ask about who would be your direct mentor in the group (professor, post-doc, graduate student).
  • Bring an unofficial copy of your transcript (degree audit is fine) if you haven’t already submitted one.

Co-authored publications

Undergraduates have the opportunity to co-author papers with professors. Papers co-authored by undergraduates (see bolded names) from 2010 to the present can be found in the following collection:

David Soll

Deborah Wessels, Daniel F. Lusche, Edward Voss, Spencer Kuhl, Emma Buchele, Michael R. Klemme, Kanoe B. Russell, Joseph Ambrose, Benjamin A. Soll, Aaorn Bossler, Mohammed Milhem, Charles Goldman, David R. Soll. (2017). Melanoma cells undergo aggressive coalescence in a 3D Matrigel model that is repressed by anti-CD44. PLoS One.12(3):e0173400. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173400


Joseph Ambrose, Michelle Livitz, Deborah Wessels, Spencer Kuhl, Daniel F. Lusche, Amanda Scherer, Edward Voss, David R.Soll. (2015). Mediated coalescence: a possible mechanism for tumor cellular heterogeneity. American journal of cancer research. 5(11):3485-504.


Amanda Scherer, Spencer Kuhl, Deborah Wessels, Daniel F. Lusche, Brett Hanson, Joseph Ambrose, Edward Voss, Emily Fletcher, Charles Goldman, David R. Soll. (2015). A Computer-Assisted 3D Model for Analyzing the Aggregation of Tumorigenic Cells Reveals Specialized Behaviors and Unique Cell Types that Facilitate Aggregate Coalescence. PLoS ONE. 10(3):e0118628.


Daniel F. Lusche, Deborah Wessels, Nicole A. Richardson, Kanoe B. Russell, Brett M. Hanson, Benjamin A.Soll, Benjamin H. Lin, David R. Soll  PTEN Redundancy: Overexpressing lpten, a Homolog of    Dictyostelium discoideum ptenA, the Ortholog of Human PTEN, Rescues All Behavioral Defects of the Mutant ptenA− . PlosONE September 23, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108495


Deborah Wessels, Daniel F. Lusche, Paul Steimle, Amanda Scherer, Spencer Kuhl, Kristin Wood, Brett Hanson, Thomas Egelhoff, David R. Soll. (2012). Myosin heavy chain kinases plan essential roles in Ca2+, but not cAMP, chemotaxis and the natural aggregation of Dictyostelium discoideum. 2012. J Cell Sci. 15:4934-44.


Daniel F. Lusche, Deborah Wessels, Dan E Ryerson, David R. Soll. (2011). Nhe1 is essential for potassium but not calcium facilitation of cell motility and the monovalent cation requirement for chemotactic orientation in Dictyostelium discoideum. Eukaryot Cell 10:320-31.


Jim Lin

Q Wang, TL Lu, Eric Adams, JL Lin, Lin JJ (2013). Intercalated Disc Protein, mXina, Suppresses p120-Catenin Induced Branching  Phenotype Via its Interactions with p120-Catenin and Cortactin. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 535, 91-100. 


Qinchuan Wang, Jenny Li-Chun Lin, Stephen Y. Chan, and Jim Jung-Ching Lin. (2013). The Xin Repeat Containing Protein, mXinβ, Imitates the Maturation of the Intercalated Discs During Postnatal Heart  Development. Developmental Biology, 374, 264 280. 


Christopher S. Stipp

Marit N. Meland, Mary E. Herndon, Christopher S. Stipp. (2010). Expression of α5 Integrin Rescues Fibronectin Responsiveness in NT2N CNS Neuronal Cells. Journal of Neuroscience   Research, 88, 222-232.


Shannin Zevian, Nicole E. Winterwood, and Christopher S. Stipp. (2011). Structure-Functions Analysis of Tetraspanin CD151 Reveals Distinct   Requirements for Tumor Cell Behaviors Mediated by α3β1 versus α6β4 Integrin. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 286, 7496-7506.


Bo Zhou, Katherine N. Gibson-Corley, Mary E. Herndon, Yihan Sun, Elisabeth Gustafson-Wagner, Melissa Teoh-Fitzgerald, Frederick E. Domann, Michael D. Henry, Christopher S. Stipp . (2014). Integrin α  3β1 Can Function To Promote Spontaneous Metastasis and Lung Colonization of Invasive Breast Carcinoma. Molecular Cancer Research, 12, 143-154.


Ana Llopart

Danielle K. Herrig, Alec J. Modrick, Evgeny Brud, Ana Llopart (2013). Introgression in the Drosophila Subobscura-D.Madeirensis Sister Species:Evidence of Gene Flow in Nuclear Genes Despite Mitochondrial Differentiation. Evolution 68 (3), 705-719.


Emily A. Beck, Aaron C. Thompson, Joel Sharbrough, Evgeny Brud, and Ana Llopart(2015). Gene flow between Drosophila yakuba and Drosophila santomea in subunit V
of cytochrome c oxidase: A potential case of cytonuclear cointrogression. Evolution 69 (8), 1973-1986.


Maurine Neiman

Amanda E. Nelson, Maurine Neiman. (2011). Persistent Copulation in Asexual Female Potamopyrgus antiopodarm: Evidence for Male Control with Size-Based Preferences. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 1-7.


Nicholas  Zachar, Maurine  Neiman (2013). Profound Effects of Population Density of Fitness-Related Traits in an Invasive Freshwater Snail. PLOS ONE, 8, 1-6.


Dorota Paczesniak, Jukka Jokela, Katelyn Larkin, Maurine Neiman.  (2013). Discordance Between Nuclear and Mitochondrial Genomes in Sexual and Asexual Lineages of the Freshwater Snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum. Molecular Ecology, 22, 4695-4710.


Nicole R. Krois, Anvesh Cherukuri, Nikhil Puttagunta and Maurine  Neiman. (2014). Higher Rate of Tissue Regeneration in Polyploid asexual versus Diploid Sexual Freshwater Snails. Biology Letters, 9, 14.


Maurine Neiman, Katelyn Larkin, AR Thompson, P Wilton. (2012). Male Offspring Production by asexual Potamopyrus antipodarum, a New Zealand Snail. Heredity, 109, 57-62.


Maurine Neiman, Donald Warren, Bryce Rasmussen, Sylvia Zhang  (2013). Complex Consequences of Increased Density for Reproductive Output in an Invasive Freshwater Snail. Evolution Ecology,  27, 1117-1127.


Andrew Forbes

Andrew A. Forbes, Patrick H. Kelly, Kara A. Middleton, Marty A. Condon (2013). Genetically Differentiated Races and Speciation-With-Gene-flow in the Sunflower Maggot, Strauzia  Longipennis. Evolution Ecology, 27, 1017-1032.


Albert Erives

Andrew Brittain, Elizabeth Stroebele, Albert Erives (2014). Microsatellite Repeat Instability Fuels Evolution of  Embryonic Enhancers in Hawaiian Drosophila. P_LOS ONE, 9, 1-13.


Justin Crocker, Nathan Potter, Albert Erives (2010). Dynamic Evolution of Precise Regulatory Encodings  Creates the Clustered Site Signature of Enhancers. Nature Communications, 1-9.


Sarit Smolikove

AM Clemons, HM Brockway, Y Yin, B Kasinathan, YS Butterfield, SJ Jones, MP Coloaiacovo, S Smolikove (2013). Akirin is Required for Diakinesis Bivalent Structure and Synaptonemal Complex  Disassembly at Meiotic Prophase I. MBoC, 24, 1053-1067.


Bernd Fritzsch

Jennifer Kersigo, Alex D'Angelo, Brian D. Gray, Garrett A. Soukup, and Bernd Fritzsch (2011). The Role of Sensory Organs and the Forebrain for the Development of the Craniofacial Shape as Revealed   by Foxg1-cre-Mediated MicroRNA Loss. Genesis, 49, 326-341.


Mark S. Blumberg

MS Blumberg, CM Coleman,  Ashlynn I. Gerth, B McMurray. (2013). Spatiotemporal Structure of REM Sleep Twitching Reveals Developmental Origins of Motor Synergies. Current Biology, 23, 2100


Chun-Fang Wu

Atulya Iyengar,TS Chakraborty TS, SP Goswami, Chun-Fang Wu, O Siddigi. (2010). Post-eclosion Odor Experience Modifies Olfactory Receptor Neuron Coding in Drosophila. PNAS, 107, 9855-9860.


Atulya Iyengar, Jordan Imoehl, Atsushi Udea,  Jeffery Nirschl, Chun-Fang Wu (2012). Automated Quantification of Locomotion, Social Interaction, and Mate Preference in Drosophila Mutants. J.Neurogenetics, 26, 306-316.


Michael E. Dailey

Ukpong B. Eyo, Sam A. Miner, Katelin E. Ahlers, Long-Jun Wu, Michael Dailey  (2013). P2X7 Receptor  Activation Regulates Microglial Cell Death During Oxygen Glucose Deprivation. Neuropharmacology, 73, 311-319.


Chi-Lien Cheng

Linh T. Bui, Amelia Hurst, Erin E. Irish, Chi-Lien Cheng (2012). The Effects of Sugars and Ethylene on Apospory and Regeneration in Ceratopteris Richardii. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 3, 953-961.


Want more research opportunities?

Check out our page for Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) to find out what you can do on the University of Iowa campus.

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