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Student Research

What is Independent Research?

Independent research is an opportunity to take an active role in studying what you enjoy!  Students participate in a lab, field, or modeling project in which they themselves have a say in the design, implementation, and interpretation of experiments.  It is expected that the student will meet regularly with his or her mentor as well as gain exposure to the scientific literature of the field.  

Have you already found a project & mentor?  Review the policies and complete the Independent Study Enrollment Request to receive authorization to register:


Finding a Research Project & Mentor

Exploring Your Interests

There are hundreds of biology-related research areas at U-M!  The first step is to consider what really interests you and start to narrow down your possible research areas.  Consider what you liked about certain classes, social issues that interest you, or journal articles or news items that sparked your interest.  Explore the broad research areas of U-M Biological Sciences faculty.

Try to think broadly when you are looking for labs – don’t just look at the "cool-sounding" areas. Drill down to the faculty member’s name and specific lab and you will get a more detailed description of his or her research and contact information (email address). You can even go to their lab website for more detail about their research.


Contacting Faculty

Contact faculty by email - one by one. Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Use professional language.  Do not call them by their first name, call them “Doctor” or “Professor."  Ask to meet with them (give them a few times that are good times for you to meet).  Be clear in your email message what you are looking for – paid position, volunteer, academic credit -  and when you want to start.  Let them know if you are considering an Honors thesis project, if you would like to work there multiple semesters, etc.

Do not get discouraged by rejections. Many faculty members have limited space and funding in their lab. You may have to contact at least 20 different labs to find the right fit.

Remember if you wish to receive credit toward your major for research done under the direction of a faculty member in another department or unit of the University, you must obtain approval from a faculty member in EEB or MCDB who agrees to serve as co-sponsor before beginning the project.


EEB RESEARCH spans the full range of biological diversity and includes understanding the diversity of organisms, discerning their history, accounting for their characteristics (evolutionary processes), analyzing the function of their features (functional organismal biology), and understanding how organisms affect and are affected by environmental factors.  Take a look at the broad research areas of the faculty in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and check in to see which EEB faculty are accepting students!


MCDB RESEARCH strives to develop new knowledge through basic research about how living organisms function with a focus on the molecular and cellular levels of all branches of life—bacteria, plants, and animals. Areas of particular research strength are animal physiology and neurobiology, biochemistry, cell biology, developmental biology, microbiology, and plant molecular biology.  If you are looking for a molecular or cellular lab, explore the broad areas of research in MCDB and the research themes of MCDB faculty.


THE PROGRAM IN BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES website is another resource for MCDB-related areas.  This is a PhD program, but they do a good job of lisiting research areas and faculty!  Note that this resource lists non-MCDB faculty as well, for which you would need an MCDB department faculty co-sponsor (see FAQs below).


UNDERGRAD. RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM (UROP) is open to 1st- and 2nd-year students only, but it's a great way to get connected with research and faculty in a variety of fields.  Review their sample projects for ideas about research areas.


FAQ's & Policy Information

What if my Faculty Sponsor is not an EEB or MCDB faculty member?

A student wishing to receive credit toward his or her major for research done under the direction of a faculty member in another department or unit of the University must obtain approval from a faculty member in the Department of EEB or MCDB, who agrees to serve as co-sponsor before beginning the project.  A prospective co-sponsor will verify that the proposed research meets all of the criteria required of research carried out within the Department of EEB or MCDB.  The faculty co-sponsor will review the research proposal and decide the appropriateness of the nature of the research.  The co-sponsor will also confirm that the project is biological in nature, that it will help the student develop independence and is not simply a technical training exercise.  (Note: Microbiology concentrators who elect to take Micro 399 do not need to find a co-sponsor, nor does a Neuroscience concentrator who elects to take Psych independent study elections).

Can I take an undergraduate research course offered in a different department?

If an external unit or department offers its own undergraduate research course, the student may elect it instead of EEB or MCDB 300 or 400. However, to be eligible for major credit, the project must be co-sponsored (as described above). If this option is chosen, the course may count as a cognate course for those majors that accept cognate courses as part of the major. (See individual major requirements to determine if a cognate course can count toward the major.)

Note that, per LS&A policy:  Candidates for an A.B., B.S., or B.G.S. degree must complete a minimum 100 credits of LSA courses, allowing 20 credits of non-LSA course work in the minimum 120 required for the degree. Non-LSA credits in excess of 20 will be included in the calculation of a student's GPA, but will not be counted toward the 120 credits needed for a Bachelor's degree in LSA.

Can I repeat an Independent Study course?

Students can register for BIOLOGY 200 for up to 6 credit hours and EEB/MCDB 300 or 400 for a maximum of 9 credits each; however, only a maximum of 3 credits will be applied toward the major (with the exception of the EEB major which allows 6).  If a student elects to take more than the major-approved number of credits of independent research, the extra credits will count towards the student’s general pool of 120 credits required to graduate from LS&A.

College of LS&A Policies: A combined total of 30 credits of Experiential and Directed Reading/Independent Study courses may be counted in the 120 credits required for a degree. Experiential and Independent Study courses are excluded from area distribution plans.

Which course do I elect? What are the prerequisites?

Course Prerequisites:
Biology 200 None
EEB or MCDB 300 8 or more Biology course credits (non-AP) and 3.0 or greater cum. GPA
EEB or MCDB 400 12 or more Biology course credits (non-AP), EEB/MCDB 300, and >3.0 GPA

How many credits will count toward my major?

Major Max. Credits Courses Eligible
Biology, Gen. Bio., and Plant Bio. 3 Biology 200 (max. 2 credits), or EEB/MCDB 300 or 400
Cellular and Molecular Biology 3 MCDB 400
Microbiology 3 EEB/MCDB 400, or Micro 399
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 6 Biology 200 (max. 2 credits), or EEB/MCDB 300 or 400
Neuroscience 3 MCDB 300 or 400, or appropriate PSYCH course

What Program in Biology major requirements will the experience fulfill?

Note: Three credits of independent research credit must be completed in one term to fulfill a requirement,with the exception of Neuroscience (see below).

Major Min. Credit Election Requirement Courses
Biology, Gen. Bio., and Plant Bio. 3 Lab, or Adv. Elective EEB/MCDB 300 or 400
Cellular and Molecular Biology 3 Lab, or Adv. Elective MCDB 400
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 3 Lab, or Ind. Research EEB/MCDB 300 or 400
Microbiology 3 Advanced Elective EEB/MCDB 400 or Micro 399
Neuroscience 2-3* Lab MCDB 300/400, or PSYCH option

* A student who elects MCDB 300 or 400 has the option of taking 2 credits to fulfill the requirement; otherwise the student must take 3 credits from one of the approved Psych courses.

Can I take the course pass/fail?

All research courses that will be used as part of a major must be assigned letter grades.

For how many credits should I register?

Independent study courses may be elected for between one and three credits.  Credits may be elected by following these general guidelines: 3-5 hours a week of serious academic work (e.g. reading, discussion with a faculty member, writing) or 4-5 hours of laboratory work per week generally earns one full semester hour credit.

How do I register for an Independent Study Section?

Students who meet the above-listed criteria and are interested in participating in an independent study project for credit can complete the Independent Study Enrollment Request form and turn it in to the Program in Biology office in 1140 USB.  Note that the form must be signed by the faculty mentor (and the co-sponsor if one is needed) and must include a short description of the project.

Can I be paid for my work?

No.  Undergraduate researchers may receive credit or be paid for their work, but they may not receive both pay and course credit for the same work.