Undergraduate Studies

Biology Undergraduates Doing Research



Why get involved in undergraduate research
  • Best way to see if really interested in biological research!
  • Opportunity to work in a world class research lab with award winning faculty!
  • Way to really learn biology, right at a lab bench!
  • Earn honors research credit, and even graduate with honors!
  • Discover the wide variety of research in the life sciences going on at Purdue!
Misconceptions undergraduates have about doing research
  • Have to have a project already in mind to do research.
  • Didn't already know what I am supposed to do in a research lab.
  • Would be really formal when working in a research lab.
  • Research posters outside the lab wanted to work really look intimidating.
  • Would look stupid because didn't know much about doing research.
  • Would be put at a lab bench, then expected to do something significant.
  • Don't know enough biology to do research.
Best things about doing undergraduate research
  • Make lasting connections with faculty, graduate students, other undergraduates in your lab.
  • Get to go to scientific meetings to present your research.
  • Actually get to do "real" research in a lab.
  • Get to see what it's like to be a graduate student.
  • Reinforce what learn in your classes.
  • Really learn how to solve problems, and think critically.
  • Helps to clarify what want to do for a career.
  • Satisfaction when your research gives useful results.
  • Get to pose your own research questions, then figure out ways to answer them.
Steps to take to do undergraduate research in our department
  • Talk to department's chair of undergraduate research, Professor Christie Sahley, or talk to your faculty mentor or academic advisor.
    • Appointments with Dr. Sahley can be made by e-mailing her secretary, Marcy Nevius, at mnevius@purdue.edu
  • See the list of "Mentors for Undergraduate Research" maintained by the Biology Counseling Office (LILY 1-123)
  • Email a professor whose research interests you, and make an appointment to meet with them.
  • Go to the Biology website to find research descriptions of what faculty are doing.
  • Take a course with a professor, like the subject matter of their course, ask to join their lab.
Don't believe us? Listen to these interviews with our undergraduate research students!
Melissa Berning

Melissa Berning
I think I smell a (Bannertailed Kangaroo) Rat!
As an elementary school student, love of science may come from a family member, a teacher, a class, or a science fair. For Melissa Berning this early interest in science propelled her towards a career in Veterinary Medicine. Working with animals in a clinical setting was not Melissa's first pursuit when she entered college. Rather she initially thought she wanted to become a pharmacist. However, she always had an interest in helping animals, so as often happens in life, her path changed, and in the fall of 2007 she began her DVM training at the Purdue School of Veterinary Medicine.

Melissa did not begin undergraduate research until her junior year, but that did not hinder a successful completion of her honors thesis nor prevent her from completing the Biology Honors Research program. Melissa's work in Dr. Waser's lab focused on the banner-tailed kangaroo rat, and through this work she learned to ask her own research questions then generate data in order to answer those questions. Like many undergraduate researchers, Melissa learned to take the initial information given to her by Dr. Waser and make the research project her own. This learning process led her to address research issues in an independent manner. Of her experience, Melissa says, "one of the most important things was learning how to solve problems and how to think critically." She ultimately provided input into the background and structure of how to research kin recognition in banner-tailed kangaroo rats which resulted in a successful collaborative effort for the whole Waser lab.

Melissa's positive experience in Dr. Waser's lab sparked the possibility of pursuing a MS or Ph.D. in addition to her DVM in order to further a career in veterinary medicine and research. Melissa told us, "before this undergraduate research experience [teaching and research] wasn't an option in my mind, but I really do think that I'd like to consider staying in an academic environment."

Melissa graduated from Purdue in 2007, and while a student she served as a Teaching Intern for BIOL 115 (First-Year Biology Seminar), she lead departmental tours, and was a member of Mortar Board (A National Collegiate Honor Society). Listen to our interview with Melissa to find out more about her undergraduate research experience. Interview (mp3 file) 7 min 5 sec. Transcript of interview (pdf file).

Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer Nelson
The Lawyer and the Lab
Amid the flurry of activity, as lawyers and court staff run in and out of the room taking care of their pre-trial business, sits Jenny Nelson, a resolute, confident, well prepared, and astute lawyer. This scene could be Jenny's first day in court after completing law school and passing the bar.

Even before entering the University of Chicago law school, Jenny's education prepared her for a legal career. As an undergraduate in biological sciences at Purdue University, she initially thought she would pursue a Ph.D., or a career in medicine. Jenny knew one way to explore her career options was to get involved in undergraduate research. When Jenny told us in an interview we had with her before she graduated from Purdue University with a B.S. in biology, "I don't think I really understood what research was, but I don't think I really understood what biology was either when I was a freshman," she still understood the value of the science learned in a research lab verses the science learned in the classroom.

Her undergraduate research experiences in Professor Rossman's and in Professor Minchella's research labs in the Department of Biological Sciences eventually lead Jenny away from pursuing a Ph.D. or M.D., but they helped her set her sights on becoming a lawyer. In our interview, Jenny also added, "I actually think that a lot of the stuff that I did [in a research lab] will actually help me in law school," like the weekly papers she read in preparation for lab meetings, to designing an experiment. Jenny developed critical communication and analysis skills, and these skills will serve her well when her day in court comes.

Jenny graduated from Purdue in 2007, and while here she also worked in the Biology Resource Center, served as a Teaching Intern for BIOL 115 (First-Year Biology Seminar), and she lead departmental tours. Listen to our interview with Jenny to find out more about her undergraduate research experience. Interview (mp3 file) 8 min 20 sec. 

Shruthi Rajashekara

Shruthi Rajashekara
Student, Researcher, International Ambassador of Science
A medical mission trip to Ecuador! A study abroad experience in Denmark to learn about HIV/AIDS and health care in Western Europe! Another study abroad experience in Paris to complete a French minor, study the history of French relations with Northern Africa and the Middle East, and an opportunity to use her knowledge of the French language and science to offer HIV/AIDS prevention talks to African immigrants. No one can accuse Shruthi Rajashekara of sitting idly by letting knowledge come to her. She took advantage of all Purdue had to offer and worked to diversify her education.

Shruthi's interest in infectious disease led her to explore research labs involving viruses. Ultimately, she joined the lab of Dr. Richard Kuhn, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences, where she worked onthe structure of a specific Sindbus virus protein. When she began her undergraduate research experience, Shruthi was under the tutelage of Dr. Kuhn, his post-doctoral students, and graduate students in his lab, but based on the way she approaches life, it is not surprising that Shruthi enjoys the independence that accompanies pursuing a research project for multiple semesters. During our interview, Shruthi stated, "applying [the knowledge I learned in my classes] in my own lab…where I formulate some of my own projects has definitely helped me understand the material better and helped me perform better in my other classes."

We interviewed Shruthi when she was a senior at Purdue, and along with her research she participated in Purdue Science Student Council, Amnesty International, served as a Science Ambassador and mentor to first-year students through the Women in Science Program, and was named the Outstanding Biological Sciences student her freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Shruthi hopes to obtain a Fulbright Scholarship to engage in international study for a year before applying to medical school.

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