Undergraduate Research in BME
Undergraduates have the opportunity to join a faculty lab and play a meaningful role in advancing its research agenda.
Form to Propose BME 4995 Research or Design for Credit
Form to Propose BME 4995 Internship for Credit
Undergraduate researchers are mentored by faculty and work closely with the lab’s graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. They are valued lab members, attending lab meetings and participating in journal clubs. They co-author publications, present at national meetings, and fund their own research through competitive awards.
The typical trajectory is to begin by shadowing a graduate student or a post-doctoral fellow and reading assigned articles. Students next volunteer in the lab, learning techniques and beginning to gain some skills. At this point, many students will apply their newly acquired skills to internships, REUs at other schools, clinical immersion experiences or entrepreneurship. They may or may not continue on working in their UVA research lab.
Others will continue on in their UVA labs, gaining independence and mastery enough to propose a semester-long "for-credit" research project. About a third of BME students spend multiple, contiguous semesters and summers in their UVA labs, from first or second year until graduation.
Undergraduate Research Advice for BMEs at UVA
Research is performed on a paid, for-credit or volunteer basis, both during the summer and academic year. Some students work in the same lab for several semesters or years. Other students try research and move on.
At exit interview time at the end of fourth year, "not getting started early enough with research" is among the biggest regrets of graduating students - even for those students who moved on to internships, entrepreneurship, policy, public health, or premed.
Don't wait for labs or professors to contact you.
There do exist a few "ads" for undergraduate researchers, for example there is a Engineering-wide list HERE. Also, labs (especially medical school labs) may send out "help wanted" ads through the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list. Those are great opportunities. Jump on them when you see them.
But, really, these ads are few and far between. Yet a lot of undergrads are doing research--see below for some stats.* So how did those students get involved? They did some leg work. The reality is that you'll have to, too. You need to research labs (most have websites), email professors, reach out to grad students, talk to instructors and TAs, talk to other BME undergrads, attend seminars and networking events, take a student-taught BME 1501 class, ask your advisor how she can help you, and do some self-reflection.
You need a viable narrative.
Why are you contacting THAT specific lab? Just a sentence or two. Don't spend hours on this. But do some research. Review the lab's website. Do you have any mentored research or industry experience that is relevant?
If not, reflect on what you like to do. What do you get absorbed in? What have you trained to do? You can often parlay non-science skills and interests into a "viable narrative." Come to BME Cookie Hour and chat with BME graduate students. Ask them what they do, what they like to do, and how they got started with research. BME Cookie Hour is 3:00p - 3:15p every Wednesday in the MR5 second floor atrium. Be a bit early. It's all over in about 15 minutes.
You also need resilience.
The following scenario is not unusual: You took the time to research a lab, you're really psyched about it, and the lab is not looking for students, or they just ignore your email. The next step? Follow up and simultaneously move on.
Don't limit yourself to BME labs.
There are 350+ BME Majors and 26 BME Labs. You get the picture. Many BMEs work in labs outside the department. It helps that we are a 30-second walk from all the research labs in the UVA School of Medicine.
Just try! Try something!
Try talking to your instructors and TAs after class. Try talking to your advisor about more than which class to take. Try emailing a lab. Try emailing a faculty member in the School of Medicine. Come to Cookie Hour. Take a BME 1501 to meet other like-minded undergrads and learn more about a focus area.
Talking to people is something that you can do, even if you don't have time to volunteer in a lab this semester. The more you talk to people, the more you'll see that there are opportunities out there. The way you access these opportunities is by talking to people about their experiences and your interests. You then use this conversation as a basis for asking how you might get involved.
Is it OK not to do research at all?
Yes!! See below for some numbers. Many students never do research in a UVA Lab. Others volunteer in a lab for one semester. One-third of BME Majors spend multiple, contiguous semesters and summers in a lab. Graduating students often reflect that they start to sync with their career goals in third year. In other words, you're not alone.
We'd like to see all our students doing something that aligns with their after-graduation goals that summer after third year. Research can help get you there. It's a resume builder that leads to more research, industry internships, REUs, entrepreneurship, policy, public health, or premed.
* How many BME majors do undergraduate research?
This is what was reported in the Class of 2021 Exit Interview. 119 students participated in the survey. 105 filled out the question about undergraduate research. For these students, the pandemic started at the end of third year.
- 35% (42 of 119) reported no undergraduate research at UVA after the first year
- 53% (63 of 119) reported undergraduate research at UVA after the first year
- 12% (14 of 119) unknown