Undergraduate Research

Our faculty are invested heavily in research, and we encourage qualified undergraduates to become engaged in research projects. Research experience is valuable preparation for postgraduate education, medical school, or employment.

Students initially work closely with faculty and graduate students on research projects, but are encouraged to develop into independent researchers. Independent research fosters creative thinking, develops analytical skills, and encourages teamwork. This page helps you get started on your research journey.

There are a few common ways to get involved in research in our department that we describe below in more detail:

  1. through volunteering/shadowing or paid research assistant positions in a lab
  2. independent study/research
  3. research labs or lab courses. For students interested in a full-time, intensive research experience, the BCS department offers several competitive summer fellowship opportunities
  4. one of which is the Meliora summer research fellowship, which is specifically aiming to recruit students who have not previously conducted research. In addition, advanced students may choose to cap off their research experience at UR
  5. writing an honors thesis about their research.

Volunteering and Paid Research Assistant Positions

Students interested in gaining research experience should start by searching listings posted on the Office of Undergraduate Research website, including the AURA system. This is the easiest and fastest way to identify labs that are actively seeking undergraduate volunteers and research assistants.

In addition, students can check out individual faculty research in our department, the Neuroscience Program at the Medical Center, the Center for Visual Science, and Department of Psychology. BCS students have also done research in other departments whose research also overlaps with BCS, including Ophthalmology, Data Science, Linguistics, BME, Optics, Neurology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and the Eastman School of Music. Once a student has identified a researcher they would like to work with, they may contact that faculty member directly. Most are happy to work with undergraduates, although they may not be able to accommodate every request.

Students without relevant coursework may be asked to begin as observers or volunteers, progressing to more substantive work for pay or academic credit as they gain experience. Strong computer programming and/or data analysis skills will be highly advantageous for students seeking to get involved in BCS research, as these skills are critical in implementing experiments, extracting and organizing data, and visualizing/analyzing results. Students interested in research are strongly encouraged to take a computer programming course early in their programs of study if they do not already have substantial programming skills. Common programming languages used in our research include Python, Matlab, R, and Javascript.

Individual Study Courses: Design and Register your Research for Credit

Students looking to earn academic credit for their research must register for an independent study course. The instructor of an independent study must be a full-time member of the teaching faculty. For this reason, the principal investigator (PI) of the lab is usually the named instructor, even if a graduate student or post-doc will be the student’s direct supervisor. The departmental affiliation of the instructor determines the course number, such as BCSC 395 or NSCI 395.

The PI’s departmental affiliation also affects the registration process. If the instructor is affiliated with River Campus departments or programs other than biology, then use the independent study form. If they’re affiliated with biology (including NSC) or the Medical Center with no River Campus affiliation, then use the biology department procedures outlined on the biology undergraduate research page. If the faculty member has affiliations with multiple departments, the student and instructor may choose which affiliation best suits their needs.

Independent study courses such as BCSC/NSCI 395 can be up to four credits per semester. The credits are determined by the amount of work expected from the student. A total of eight 395 credits across all semesters are allowed with the same instructor. Additional information on the rules and policies related to independent study courses is available on the College Center for Advising Services site.

Research Labs and Courses

These courses are designed to introduce you to research and are one of the easiest ways to get started on research and acquire the background necessary to conduct your own research.

The BCSC 206/207 course is a two-semester sequence that gives students a solid foundation for conducting independent research. Students work directly with faculty in various labs to first experimentally replicate a published research result in the fall semester, then extend the finding in a new project in the spring semester.

Summer Research & Fellowships

Summer research is a good opportunity to gain experience with a full-time laboratory, and many students report that this experience helps them decide on a career trajectory. If you are interested in a summer position, it is wise to begin looking for positions in before February, as space tends to be limited and many labs fill up quickly. Most faculty hire from the students who worked in their lab during the academic year.

Additionally, both our department and the university offers a number of summer research fellowships that can help you get started in research (e.g., the Meliora Fellowships described below) or develop your research to the next stage. Read on to learn more.

Bilski-Mayer Summer Research Fellowships

Supported by a generous donation, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences awards a few students each year with Bilski-Mayer fellowships for summer research, in the amount of $5000. BCS and Neuroscience majors are eligible, and strong students who have already begun to engage in research are especially competitive. Students must be nominated for support by their faculty research advisor. Interested students should talk to their advisors about this fellowship at the beginning of the spring semester. Faculty are generally asked to provide matching support to maximize the number of students who can be supported.

Meliora Fellowships

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences has a program that will award up to 5 Meliora summer research fellowships for underrepresented minorities (URM) and/or first-generation students. Meliora fellowships will provide a $5000 stipend to each student to conduct research over the summer. The goal of these fellowships is to increase access to research opportunities for students who have not had much previous research experience. Faculty are encouraged to reach out to promising 1st and 2nd year students in their classes to apply.

Wiesman Scholarship

Two annual Wiesman Scholarships will fully fund summer research opportunities for students from backgrounds underrepresented in research. With a goal of maximizing the long-term impact of undergraduate research experiences, these scholarships provide a $5,000 stipend and will be available to first-, second-, and third-year students with an interest in brain-related research.

deKiewiet Summer Research Fellowships

Neuroscience majors are also eligible for the deKiewiet Summer Research Fellowships, established to provide opportunities for students in the Undergraduate Program in Biology and Medicine. These research fellowships consist of a generous stipend and University housing for 10 weeks during the summer between junior and senior year. Fellowships are awarded on the basis of academic record, letters of recommendation, and the research proposal written by the student. A letter of intent is due in early March of the student’s junior year, with a formal application due after spring break.

Computational Methods for Understanding Music, Media, and Minds (with the Goergen Institute for Data Science)

Students in this program will explore an exciting, interdisciplinary research area that combines machine learning, audio engineering, music theory, and cognitive science. Students accepted into the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) will receive on-campus housing, a meal stipend, up to $600 in travel funds, and an additional stipend of $6,000.

Summer Research

Students who pursue BCSC/NSCI 395 research often are able to continue working in their labs over the summer. Summer research is a good opportunity to gain experience with a full-time laboratory, and many students report that this experience helps them decide on a career trajectory. Summer students are generally paid a reasonable wage for their summer work. The University of Rochester DISCOVER grant may help students fund their summer research experience.

If you are interested in a summer position, it is wise to begin looking for positions in February, as space tends to be limited and many labs fill up quickly. Most faculty hire from the students who worked in their lab during the academic year.

Honors Thesis and Other Opportunities

Students who have made a significant investment in independent research may be interested in pursuing a senior thesis, leading to a degree with honors in research.

For neuroscience majors, the application deadline is in March of their senior year, and the minimum GPA is 2.7. The research is expected to be hypothesis-driven and non-clinical in nature. Additional information is available on the biology undergraduate research page.

For brain and cognitive science majors, the application deadline is the last day of the fall semester in their senior year, and the minimum GPA is 3.3. Additional information is available on the BCS honors research page.