Undergraduate Research in Biology and Mathematics


Quick Look:


Wanted: Biology, biotechnology, mathematics, and statistics students to participate in mathematical biology research.

Reward: Scholarships and research experience.  Immediate Value = $6500.  Total Value could be immeasurable.

Time Commitment: Each group of students commits to three (3) semesters (Fall, Spring, and Fall) of participation and an 8-week full-time summer research project during the year of participation.  (Expected Summer Dates:  May 14-July 6, 2012)

Interested? Read the information below to learn more. Then click on the Applications link above to find out how to apply.

Application Deadline: Now being accepted until Wednesday, April 7, 2011.

Questions?  Contact Dr. Brian Walton (waltondb at jmu.edu, Roop 110, 540-568-6387).

Why Participate?

Consider the following quotes:

  • "Increasingly, biomedical researchers must be comfortable applying diverse aspects of mathematics and the physical sciences to their pursuit of biological knowledge. ... Undergraduate biology students who become comfortable with the ideas of mathematics and physical sciences from the start of their education will be better positioned to contribute to future discoveries in biomedical research.”

    National Research Council, BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2003.

  • "From visualizing subcellular processes like the misfolding of proteins that cause mad-cow disease to studying global environmental issues like the effects of atmospheric warming, mathematics is often the only tool available for developing hypotheses and anticipating consequences. The best way to develop the needed cadre of multidisciplinary experts is to get mathematics and computer-science students hooked on mathematically fascinating biological problems early in their college careers.” 

    Lynn A. Steen, “Mathematics and Biology: New Challenges for Both Disciplines,” The Chronicle Review: 51 (26) B12 (4 March 2005).

This project provides an opportunity for students in biology and biotechnology to work alongside students in mathematics and statistics with faculty in biology and mathematics and statistics on active research projects where biological and mathematical ideas and methods work together.  Students will experience an interdisciplinary research group and learn how these disciplines interact.

What Is Involved?

Research teams will be formed during Fall 2011 as one biology/biotechnology student, one mathematics/statistics student, one biology faculty, and one mathematics or statistics faculty. Students will participate with their research teams throughout the fall and spring semesters to develop their research projects in preparation for an intensive 8-week summer experience. In addition, all research teams will combine for group meetings in a seminar setting (Wednesdays at 4:00 pm).  During the Fall 2012 semester, each team focuses on preparing written technical reports and hopefully publications.

Students will receive $1000 scholarships during each semester of the 2011-12 academic year.  They will also receive a $4000 stipend as compensation for their 8 weeks of research during the summer.  Room and board support is also available. In addition, costs associated with presenting research at professional meetings and conferences will be covered.  Students begin participation in the Fall semester and continue for three semesters.  A final written report of the research project is prepared during the third semester (Fall).  When the report is successfully completed, students will be awarded an additional $500 scholarship.

During the academic year, students will be expected to enroll in the following courses:

  • At least one of (a) Mathematical Models in Biology (Math 342/Biology 342, Spring 2011, 3 hours) or (b) Introduction to Biometrics (Math 354/Biology 454, Spring 2011, 3 hours)
  • UBM Seminar (not for credit, Wednesdays, 4-5 pm, every semester, 1 hour)
  • If research credits are desired, register with faculty advisor (many students complete theses based on their research)
  • At least one course in the non-major discipline (Biology students take math course, mathematics students take biology course) separate from the courses listed above.

Scholarship funds will depend on students continuing to contribute to their groups and satisfactory participation in these required activities.

Who Is Eligible?

All students must have at least 1 year following the summer research experience as a student to complete the long-term research experience. We expect most applicants to be sophomores at the time of application, so that the first year of participation is as a junior. Students must demonstrate a sincere interest in interdisciplinary scientific inquiry involving biology and mathematics. Because funding is provided by the NSF, participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Desired Qualifications for Biology and Biotechnology students:

  • Successful completion of Math 232 or Math 235 (Calculus requirement)
  • Successful completion of Math 220 or Math 318 (Statistics requirement)
  • Successful completion or near-completion of Biology 114, 124, 214, and 224 (Biology core)

Desired Qualifications for Mathematics and Statistics students:

  • Successful completion of Math 235-237 (Calculus core)
  • Successful completion or near-completion of Math 318 (Probability and Statistics)
  • Successful completion or near-completion of Math 238 (Linear Algebra and Differential Equations) 
    or
    At least one statistics course numbered above 300.
  • Successful completion of at least one Biology course or demonstrated interest in biology. (Coursework is preferred.)

Note: If you do not quite meet these requirements but are still interested, we invite you to apply. You should include some explanation of how your preparation relates to these qualifications.  We are especially interested in learning of any interested, talented freshmen that may not have completed the full course requirements.

Interested in Applying?

Follow the Applications link and fill out the online form.  Be sure to talk with your reference before giving their name.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (DMS-0734284).  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.