The JMU Biology Department encourages undergraduate participation in research. Joining a research lab can provide valuable experience, new skills and insight into what it means to be a biologist.

You must enroll in a research course, which is worth between 1 credit (research literature) and 6 credits (Honors). See more about research credits.

Most faculty in the Biology Department have active research programs that involve undergraduate and/or graduate students. The best way to get involved in research is to find a professor whose research looks interesting to you and talk to them about it.


Faculty Research Interests

Ecology/Evolution/Organismal Biology

Sharon Babcock
Justin Brown
Corey Cleland
Dean Cocking
Idelle Cooper
Mark Gabriele

Katrina Gobetz
Heather Griscom

Reid Harris
Jim Herrick
Patrice Ludwig
Christine May
David McLeod

Conley McMullen
Joanna Mott
Rocky Parker
Morgan Steffen
Bruce Wiggins
Roshna Wunderlich
Grace Wyngaard

Cell and Molecular Biology/Biotechnology

Marta Bechtel
Tim Bloss
Kerry Cresawn
Steve Cresawn
Janet Daniel
Ray Enke
Mark Gabriele

Susan Halsell
Jim Herrick
Kris Kubow
Chris Lantz
Jonathan Monroe
Rocky Parker
Mike Renfroe

Terrie Rife
Chris Rose
Kyle Seifert
Kim Slekar
Morgan Steffen
Bisi Velayudhan

Microbiology/Virology/Immunology

Marta Bechtel
Steve Cresawn
Reid Harris
Jim Herrick

Chris Lantz
Joanna Mott
Kyle Seifert

Morgan Steffen
Pradeep Vasudevan
Louie Wurch

Neuroscience

Biology Education

Kerry Cresawn
Joseph Harsh
David McLeod

How to get started

First, give some careful thought to the idea. Ask yourself whether or not you've got the time to commit to a research project. Students often ask what kind of time commitment research takes. That's a difficult question to answer because it varies with the type of research project and with the particular faculty mentor you work with. The level of commitment is not unlike that required of a varsity athlete, however, and means that you must budget your time carefully in order to be able to put in the hours required by your research. Talk to some professors about the time commitments expected in their labs: typically they are not less than 3 hours per credit hour earned, and often much more is expected, particularly when there is a time-dependend experiment taking place.

Second, Browse the descriptions of faculty research then talk to professors and other students who are conducting research that interests you.  Researchers love to talk about their research, so don't be shy. Attend department research seminars (Fridays at 12:20 - watch for posted announcements), and make appointments to talk with individual faculty members about their research.

Third, plan ahead. Think about starting research in your sophomore or junior year. Many faculty like to work with students for two or three years. Others prefer that the student waits until they have had relevant course work before beginning research. Discuss this with the particular faculty member you wish to work with, but don't wait until your senior year. The mechanisms for receiving academic credit for research are listed below. Most students receive credit for independent research in one or more of the following courses:

Special Studies Courses

BIO 495. Biotechniques (0, 4). 1 credit.
Students are trained in research theory and techniques. Students must contact and make arrangements with a supervising instructor in the term prior to registration. May be repeated for a maximum of two credits when course content changes. Offered as credit/no credit only.
Prerequisite: GPA of 2.5 or greater.

BIO 496. Research Literature (0, 4). 1 credit.
Students pursue literature research in a selected area of biology. Students must contact and make arrangements with a supervising instructor in the term prior to registration. May be repeated for a maximum of two credits when course content changes. Offered as credit/no credit only.
Prerequisite: GPA of 2.5 or greater.

BIO 497. Biological Research (0, 4-8). 1 credit.
Students pursue a lab or field research project in a selected area of biology. For new projects (497A), students must contact and make arrangements with a supervising instructor in the term prior to registration and complete a 2-3 page proposal no later than five weeks after the start of the course. Course may be repeated as BIO 497B with the same instructor, or as BIO 497A with a different instructor. Offered as credit/no credit only.
Prerequisite: GPA of 2.5 or greater.

BIO 499. Honors in Biology (0, 6). 6 credits.
Three semester course taken as parts A, B and C; 2 credits each.  [A minimum GPA of 3.25 is required.  A research proposal is submitted to the University Honors Program Office in the fall or spring semester of the junior year. An honors thesis is required and is due in the spring semester of the senior year. Students who wish to pursue honors research should contact faculty during their sophomore year.]

Note: A maximum of 8 hours of credit in BIO 494, 495, 496, 497, 498, 499 and ISCI 450 can be counted toward the major.

Research with a Non-Full Time Biology Faculty Member

Biology majors have two options when they wish to do independent study in a laboratory with a mentor not currently listed as a full time biology faculty member in the James Madison University Catalog.

(1) Register for the independent study/research under the course designator of the mentor's department.  Credits taken this way count toward a Major or Minor in that department, if appropriate, and toward the 120 hr Bachelors degree requirement.   They do not count toward the 40 hr BIO course requirement for the biology major or the 20 hr BIO course requirement for the biology minor.  (Courses applied toward the biology major or minor must have the BIO designator when taken and credit cannot be substituted.)

(2) Register for the independent study/research as BIO 496, 497 or 499 following the standard application procedures for biology independent study. In addition to having the external mentor endorse the project and serve as the person awarding the grade, a biology faculty member will serve as a co-mentor and approve the proposal and the final report as appropriate biology research. In the case of BIO 499, this person will be the second signer on honors program documents. This co-mentor will be currently listed as a full time biology faculty member in the James Madison University Catalog.

If you have more questions, feel free to speak with any faculty member in Biology or see the FAQ page on research.

Undergraduate research profile:

Miranda Sowder

Miranda Sowder (Bechtel Lab)

Miranda Sowder has spent some long hours in the lab, doing two- or three-day long time series analyses of cell cultures, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

She has spent four semesters and one summer working in Dr Marta Bechtel’s lab on a project trying to artificially engineer a cornea (the clear covering on the front of the eye).

More undergraduate research profiles

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