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Undergraduate Research in MCB


Fall and Spring Semester Forms

Summer Semester Forms

Note: All forms must be processed in room 127 Burrill Hall. The deadline to add MCB 290 and MCB 492 is the 10th day of class during fall and spring and 7th day of class during summer. Students may not be allowed to add either of these courses after this deadline.

MCB Undergrad Research Resources

Spring 2019 MCB Undergraduate Research Workshop, PDF of PPT slides by Tina M. Knox, Coordinator of Undergraduate Instruction and Advising.

Undergraduate Research Workshop Handouts (PDF)

MCB 290, Undergraduate Research

Many undergraduate students in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) carry out research in laboratories across the Illinois campus and are eligible to earn course credit for their work.

What is it?

Students participate in scientific research in a university laboratory under the direction of a faculty member, post-doc or graduate student to earn course credit and a grade for their contributions to the lab.

What are the benefits?

  • Experience the excitement of cutting edge science
  • Hone skills in analytical thinking and communication using scientific concepts and language
  • Gain intensive practical knowledge using state-of-the-art technology
  • Determine whether graduate studies may be a viable postgraduate goal
  • Enhance undergraduate education by gaining an understanding of how the techniques and procedures discussed in lecture and lab are used in the real world

Eligibility for MCB 290 credit:

  • Must be a declared major in Biology, MCB or MCB Honors conducting research in an approved laboratory at UIUC. Students in the Biochemistry Specialized Curriculum should adhere to guidelines specific to their major. Non bio/MCB majors are ineligible to receive MCB 290 credit.
  • Must be in good academic standing, with a recommended GPA of 3.0 or higher. The research endeavor is often time intensive and necessitates strategies to ensure that a student can sustain the balance between their coursework and laboratory studies.
  • Cannot receive monetary payment or any other form of academic credit based on the research for which MCB 290 credit is earned.
  • Must enroll in the course by the university deadline to add a semester course using the appropriate form above.

Work load:

  • During a 16 week semester, one credit hour of MCB 290 is earned for each 5 hours per week spent in the lab. (For 8 week summer sessions 1 hour of credit is earned for each 10 hours per week spent in the lab).
  • Although a limit of 10 credit hours of MCB 290 can be applied towards the 120 hours needed for graduation, you are encouraged to continue your research for as many terms as you wish. All MCB 290 semesters (even beyond 10 credit hours) and their assigned letter grades will appear on your academic record and count in the calculation of your GPA.

  • Make sure that you have a clear understanding of the faculty expectations for credit and how your grade will be assessed.

How to find a research position

Please note, we do not place students into research labs.  This is something you must take initiative to apply for on your own. To ensure that you reserve enough time to fully develop your research experience as an undergraduate, you are encouraged to look for a faculty mentor before your junior year. Hence, many students begin to search for a laboratory position during the spring of their sophomore year. However, you may start earlier if your program and academic performance allow for it.

  1. Meet with your academic advisor, attend an Undergraduate Research Information Session or view the information session online to learn more about undergraduate research in MCB.

  2. Make a list of faculty with whom you are interested in working. Use the MCB Faculty by Research Area page or the MCB Faculty Videos page to create your list. You may also wish to look at faculty in other departments or programs across campus (e.g. chemistry, psychology, neuroscience, biophysics, veterinary medicine, crop sciences, kinesiology). Note: work carried out in a non-MCB lab requires prior approval in the MCB Undergraduate Instructional Program Office, 127 Burrill Hall.

  3. Create an online profile using the MCB 290 Student Profile Database. Once approved you can send an approved link to your profile to MCB faculty, so they can learn about your background and interest. Non-MCB faculty do not have access to this system, so you may have to send them a copy of your resume.

  4. Send individual emails to faculty introducing yourself and expressing your interest in working in their lab. Ask if they have room in their lab for the semester you are considering and offer to meet with them in person to discuss further. You may need to send follow up emails if you do not receive an immediate answer. One email per week is reasonable. If you are unable to get a response via email you may try to meet the faculty member during posted office hours or in their lab.

    Be professional! You are asking them to devote their time and resources to training you as a research scientist. In essence, it is a short cover letter asking for a "job. Be aware that your timing may depend on the individual professors with whom you wish to work, who sometimes differ in their preferences regarding completed courses and time commitments for students who work in their research program.

  5. Once you have found a lab to work in, fill out the appropriate form requesting credit for MCB 290. Have it signed by the faculty researcher with whom you will be working and bring to room 127 Burrill Hall prior to the deadline to add a UG POT 1 course for processing.

    Be sure you have a clear understanding of the expectations the faculty member has of you. How many hours do they expect you to spend in lab? When is it ok to work in lab? How will your grade be assessed? Is there a minimum number of semesters you are expected to work? What about summers? Will you be expected to present your work or write a senior thesis? What should you do if you decide this experience is not working out?

  6. If you continue research in future semesters be sure to renew your credit using the appropriate form found above by the appropriate deadlines.

Using the MCB 290 Student Profile Database

If you plan to contact MCB professors during your search for a research position, we recommend that you submit an electronic resume to the MCB 290 Student Profile Database. Your on-line resume may be completed at any time and will remain active in the database for six months. During your search, this allows you to provide uniform information to all MCB professors whose research is of interest to you. Non-MCB faculty will not have access to this database, so you will need to send them your information in a Word document. Questions regarding the MCB 290 Profile Database can be directed to

MCB 492 Senior Thesis

Completing at least two semesters of MCB 290 Undergraduate Research for 2 credit hours, or more, each semester under the guidance of the same professor will qualify you to enroll in MCB 492 Senior Thesis in your last semester before graduation. Not every student who conducts MCB 290 research chooses to culminate his or her research experience with a thesis. Eligible students may choose to submit a thesis for a grade and/or for high or highest distinction consideration. Discuss with your faculty advisor what is advisable and possible for your project. If you plan to submit a thesis for a grade only, it will be due on the last day of class in your final semester on campus. For further instructions regarding a senior thesis please reference Guidelines for Senior Thesis Format .

Submitting Thesis for grade in MCB 492 only:
To earn a grade in MCB 492 a student must:

  • Complete 2 semesters of MCB 290 for 2 credit hours or more each semester, in the same lab. Participation in an MCB sponsored Summer Research Fellowship can be substituted for one semester of MCB 290.
  • Register for MCB 492, in their final semester, for 3 credit hours or more.
  • Submit a written thesis, in PDF format according to these guidelines, online by the last day of classes during the semester you will be graduating. Note the thesis must be submitted in PDF format. No other formats will be accepted.
  • Obtain a letter of support from their Principal Investigator (faculty advisor).

See Graduation with Distinction for further information on deadlines and earning Distinction in MCB.

Sample Theses from Previous Students

Exploration of Optical Topometry to Study the Epidermal Surface of Arabidopsis thaliana, written by Ryan David Kelsch May 2013. Research performed in Dr. Thomas Jacobs' lab, Department of Plant Biology University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Thesis awarded High Distinction.

Coordination of silencing of two cis- linked reported genes using bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs), written by Jurgis Alvikas May 2013. Research performed in Dr. Andrew S. Belmont's lab, Department of Cell and Developmental BIology, Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Thesis awarded Highest Distinction.

Additional theses from past students are available to view in room 200 Burrill Hall. You will need to check them out using your University ID and they cannot leave the advising office.

For questions regarding Senior Thesis or Graduation with Distinction please call 217-244-6239.

Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR)

The Office of the Provost sponsors OUR. There are many valuable resources for MCB students here. From those beginning to think they would like to participate in research to those students actively working in a faculty member's lab. The site contains a list of research opportunities, journals that accept undergraduate journal articles, information about the campus Undergraduate Research Symposium and much more. These are great resources to help MCB undergrads make the most of their experience.

The goals as listed on thier site are as follows:

  • Inspire students and faculty to collaborate on research projects driven by mutual interests by fostering a research mentoring environment that encourages and rewards collaboration,
  • Disseminate best practices and models for undergraduate research to campus stakeholders,
  • Assist in the development and evaluation of curricular and co-curricular structures that support undergraduate research,
  • Encourage the creation of new opportunities for undergraduate research on campus,
  • Coordinate and nurture undergraduate research efforts across academic units on campus, and
  • Serve as a primary conduit for archiving and enhancing the awareness of undergraduate research efforts among campus stakeholders and external audiences.