Undergraduate Research Opportunities FAQs

Who can apply?
Undergraduates and BS/MS Biotechnology students at UNR who would like to gain experience and contribute to research are welcome to apply. If you are interested in a graduate program, please apply and learn more on our molecular biosciences page. 

Do I need specific skills and grades to apply?
Some labs require completion of certain lab classes as a pre-requisite (i.e. MICR 276L) to gain some basic microbiology skills before applying for a position. Labs may be looking for specific skill sets for certain open positions. Because of the many hazards present in a microbiology and immunology research lab, some basic understanding of the hazards and safe work practices are preferable. The application process can be competitive due to the number of applicants, so grades may play a role if there are multiple qualified applicants. We are a learning institution, and do not expect students to have all the skills before applying. More importantly is interest in the research, availability, dependability, commitment and a willingness to learn.

Do I need a letter of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation are not required, however, we may contact references from past jobs for the top candidate after the interview process.

Why am I limited to three project applications?
The research done in our department is diverse, and many faculty members are looking for students who are interested specifically in their work. Your interests may change as you learn about new topics, but being focused on a specific area of research can help us find the best fit for you and the PI.

What is a PI?
Principal investigators (PIs) are faculty researchers who have laboratories, write grants to receive funding for research, and hire personnel to help them conduct the research. If you work in a research lab, you will work under a PI and their lab personnel.

What is the difference between basic research and translational research?
Basic research aims to answer fundamental questions and gain knowledge about how a system or pathway works within an organism. Translational research aims to apply the knowledge gained from basic research to solve a specific health problem. Our department has research labs that are conducting both basic and translational research.

What are the expectations for me as I commit to working in a lab?
The time commitment will vary based on the open position and the job or project description. Some positions may be research based while others may be duty based, including washing dishes or maintaining equipment or supplies. They may require availability between 10-20 hours/week, all which will be included in the open position announcement. Most positions require your availability during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm) as those are the hours that mentors will be available for training and supervision, as well as for liability purposes.
After initial lab specific safety training given by the department trainer, each student learns under the mentorship of the faculty member, a senior lab member, or a graduate student. It is the mentor's duty to teach techniques, concepts, and ensure that the student is using safe lab practices. It takes a lot of time, commitment, and financial investment to supervise and mentor each student. Once the student demonstrates understanding and ability to perform lab techniques and produces data, they become an asset to the lab and the work. Knowing this, it is expected that you have the time to commit to go through the training phases and contribute to furthering the research. Most labs prefer that you commit to no less than 1 year, and some prefer that you have 2 years to work in their lab.
Students who have exceled in our research labs demonstrate commitment to learning and completing the project, take initiative to learn new techniques, read scientific literature to further their understanding to eventually contribute ideas, learn from their mistakes, ask for feedback on how they can better themselves, show genuine interest in the work being done, and ask questions when they are unsure about a concept or experiment.

Are undergraduate research positions paid or volunteer?
This all depends on the funding of the lab. Most research is grant funded, which ebbs and flows, so paid positions are not guaranteed. Some labs consider paying students after they have moved through the initial learning phase, have mastered some techniques, and start generating useful data towards research grants.
Another option is applying for undergraduate research fellowships or awards. These awards may help secure some funding for your stipend and towards supplies used on your project. Some undergraduate research fellowships and awards received by students in our department are as follows: McNair Scholars Program, Nevada Undergraduate Research Award (General and Honors), NSF-EPSCOR, Nevada INBRE, ASM Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

What training is required to work in the lab?
UNR's Environmental Health and Safety Department offers some great online trainings and in-person workshops, which we require all students who work in research labs to take. The required trainings for all personnel who work or volunteer in Microbiology and Immunology labs include: Laboratory Safety Training (Part 1 of 2), Laboratory Biosafety Training (Supplement to Part 1), Laboratory Safety Hands-On Training (Part 2 of 2), Bloodborne Pathogens Training for Laboratory Workers, and GHS Hazard Communication Update for Laboratory Workers.
All workers are offered the Hepatitis B vaccine due to the presence of bloodborne pathogens in our research labs. Also required for all workers are the UNR School of Medicine online compliance training modules, HIPAA and OSHA, through the Healthicity training platform. In addition, each lab has laboratory specific training, which is provided by the department trainer. Additional online or in-person trainings may be necessary based on lab or project specific requirements.

How often can I apply?
After you apply, you can check in with Dana Reed periodically to see if there are new openings. However, Dana will keep your application on file and give it to the hiring personnel from the lab with the opening if you are a good match for the open position.

If there are no positions available in the labs in the Microbiology and Immunology department, what other opportunities are available for gaining research experience?
Other departments on campus offer undergraduate research opportunities, including Biochemistry, Biology, Pharmacology, Physiology, and Engineering departments. There are some local biotechnology and private companies that offer intern opportunities including Charles River Labs, DxDiscovery, and Phigenics.

Still have questions?
For more information, contact Dana Reed at danareed@med.unr.edu.