Undergraduate Research – How to Get Research Experience

For those who really want to know who to get research experience…and letters of recommendation!

From the point of beginning study at UCLA, get into the habit of going to office hours.  Do this even if you don’t have questions, even if you’re shy, even if the instructor doesn’t seem friendly, etc.  Introduce yourself to the instructor.  Keep doing this throughout your time at UCLA.  You will become known to your instructors and you will get into the habit of asking questions and participating in your own education.  Start volunteering as early as you can, as well.  If you start early, you will be doing more interesting and resume-worthy volunteer work by the time letters of recommendations are needed.

As soon as possible after your first quarter, start working on getting involved in research.  There are multiple ways to accomplish this:

Biomedical Research 10H (formerly Life Science 10H) and Honors HC870A/70AL:  These courses are taught by MCDB senior faculty, and were created with sponsorship by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  The primary goal of Biomedical Research 10H – Research Training in Genes, Genetics, & Genomics is to transmit the excitement and values of scientific research to undergraduate students through their direct participation in real, discovery-based research projects.  HC70A – Genetic Engineering in Medicine, Agriculture, and Law, provides the foundations of molecular biology, and discusses the ethical legal, and social implications that result from emerging genomic technologies.  HC70AL – Gene Discovery Lab provides an original research experience for students who have completed HC70A, and uses functional genomics to address the question what are the genes required to make a seed?

The Minor in Biomedical Research is designed to help you get involved in laboratory research at an early point in your college career.  After initial training courses, you are placed in a laboratory in the College or Medical School for a minimum of four quarter of research.  In addition to your research, you take courses in analysis of research literature, oral presentation of research data, science policy and ethics, and history or philosophy of science.  After completing the Minor, you should be well trained in both the process of scientific research and the social issues facing science today.  For more information, please visit the BMR Minor website.

Student Research Project (SRP)

To get set up for SRP, go to http://www.ugresearchsci.ucla.edu (click on the link “Getting Started” located in the menu at the of the page).  Please be advised that you can do SRP with faculty who have no posted open positions on this site, and that no all faculty who do post open positions will be approved by the major, if you later do upper division research (199) for a grade.

To find a research sponsor, first look at faculty research interests.  To see MCDB faculty, you can go to www.mcdb.ucla.edu/faculty (then click on individual faculty names).  There is also a list of faculty members in other departments who are approved for MCDB credit – Approved MCDB Faculty Research Mentor List.  The easiest way to read about the faculty members research interests and even read some of their published research papers, is to Google their name, along with “UCLA” (e.g., John Smith UCLA).  Many of these faculty members will appear on different websites related to their faculty appointments at UCLA, and many of them have their own laboratory website with extensive information.

Narrow your choices to perhaps three professors at a time.  A few weeks BEFORE the quarter in which you would like to begin research, send an email to these professors.  Introduce yourself, mention particular research projects or publications of that professor which interested you, and include your GPA, and any courses you completed with that faculty member and your grade. Propose, too, that you contact them again within a few days to discuss possible participation in the laboratory as an SRP student.  Hopefully you will receive a response from one or more of the professors.  If not, do not get discouraged.  After two or three weeks, send them another email, mentioning that you have contacted them previously, and that you are still interested in joining their lab as an undergraduate researcher.

Research for a grade and MCDB major credit

MCDB majors have a choice of three different research courses.  Projects must be experimental laboratory research and not clinical, a literature search, literature evaluation, or survey work.

MCDB 196A/196B are part of a two-quarter research curriculum that fulfills the MCDB laboratory requirement and some elective units.  MCDB 180A/180B are taken concurrently with 196A and 196B.  Students must apply for these courses.

MCDB 198A-B, C, D involves at least three quarters of research (12 units) and a written honors thesis, and makes you eligible for Departmental Honors/Highest Honors when you graduate.  To be eligible, your GPA in the major must be 3.5 or above.

MCDB 199A-B, C may be applied toward the 20 units of electives required for the major, or in some cases four units will be applied to the laboratory requirement and eight units applied toward the electives. MCDB 199A-B, C, D must be taken for at least two consecutive quarters (8 units).  To be eligible, your GPA in the major must be 3.0 or above.  MCDB 199A-B, C may be applied to fulfill 12 of the 20 units of electives required for the major.  You may continue with 199D, but this course will not be applied toward MCDB major credit.