Natural scientists study physical, biological, and chemical properties and processes. They use a rigorous process of experimentation to understand naturally-occurring phenomenon and human interventions in the physical environment. Through similar methodology, engineers investigate ways for humans to better manipulate the natural world.
Many scientists and engineers work in laboratories or groups and focus on minute aspects of a larger investigation. At the university, laboratories are operated by a Principle Investigator or PI who is typically a professor with one or more grants to pursue a project that falls under a larger scientific theme. The PI may direct the work of post-doctoral researchers, graduate students, and undergraduates who take responsibility for components of the project. Students enrolled in an independent study or other for-credit option during the academic year should expect to spend 9-10 hours per week in lab for each 3 units of credit, with additional time necessary for prep work, data reduction, and reading relevant journal articles. Other opportunities to serve as a general laboratory assistant may require less time.
The following timeline is an example of how you might advance through research during your undergraduate career. To develop your personalized timeline, meet with a member of the OUR Staff or talk with your adviser.
- Take the necessary introductory courses. Most departments have a specific sequence on their website.
- Freshman seminars give you an opportunity to explore a narrow topic in depth.
- Enroll in a seminar that exposes you to faculty research on campus (such as Biol 181).
- Take a course that develops your laboratory skills (such as ESE 297).
- Build relationships with professors by discussing their research and your interests.
- After you have identified a topic that excites your intellectual curiosity, work with a faculty mentor to find a lab that works for you.
- Watch for opportunities to serve as a research assistant. Talk to your adviser or department research coordinator.
- If you are ready, find work in a lab through a for-credit research course (such as Biol 200), independent study, or Work-Study position (follow department guidelines for registration and approval).
- As you gain more experience with research techniques, work with your mentor to develop an independent research project.
- Apply for funding to conduct research during the summer.
- If you are planning to write an senior thesis, you should follow your department’s guidelines for submitting a proposal (typically late spring of the Junior year).
- Share your research with the WashU community and beyond.
- Take an independent study or senior thesis course to complete a capstone project.
The Departments and Centers listed below have specific information about undergraduate research opportunities in the Natural Sciences: