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Undergraduate Research

Participating in research as an undergraduate can be a very rewarding experience. Approximately 90% of Biology majors pursue an independent research project at some point during their undergraduate careers; some also pursue honors, and some do not.

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How to get started
In-department research
Out-of-department research
Questions about enrolling

How to Get Started

Find a Lab

Biology majors in particular have a plethora of research opportunities in the Biology Department, departments in the Medical School, and labs at Hopkins Marine Station. To get started in searching for a potential lab, these are some great resources to consider:

  • Biology Department Faculty: Browse each faculty member's areas of research
  • Research Areas: Search for a faculty member based on a particular area of interest within the field of Biology
  • Community Academic Profiles: This site allows you to search for faculty labs in the Stanford School of Medicine. You can search by name, department, or even keyword. This is a useful tool if you know generally what area of research you would like to pursue, but are unsure of a specific lab that does what interests you.
Tips for Contacting Prospective PIs

Once you have narrowed down 3-5 of your top choices, use the following steps as a general guide:


  • Spend time thoroughly looking over the lab's website. This will give a lot of information including how large the lab is, what types of projects are underway, and how many and what kinds of publications are getting done.

  • Read through a few publications to familiarize yourself with the research. This will give you something to talk about when you set up a meeting with the faculty member, and it also shows a genuine interest in their work.

  • Email the faculty member asking for an appointment. Be sure to mention that you have looked through their website and publications. This shows that you have made an effort and have an interest in them specifically. Be prepared to discuss your specific research interests.


  • Send a generic email simply asking if there are spaces in their lab. This is not compelling, and you may not even get a response.

  • Assume that the faculty member knows who you are. Briefly introduce yourself as a Biology major interested in pursuing ____.

Remember: politeness and persistence are important!

In-Department Research (BIO 199)

Once you have found and been accepted into a lab, you are strongly encouraged to enroll in academic credit for your work in the lab. The general formula for determining units is: 1 unit=3 hours of work per week.

Working in a Lab in Biology

Students doing research in Biology Department labs can study anything from cell biology, genetics, and plants to ecology, conservation, and marine biology. To get academic credit for Biology Department research (which can also count toward Biology major electives and Biology Honors requirements), students should enroll in their faculty member's section of BIO 199.

Be sure to discuss the number of units and grading options ahead of time with your faculty research advisor. No petition is required to enroll in BIO 199, and students in any major are welcome to enroll provided they have permission from the faculty member.

Out-of-Department Research (BIO 199X)

BIO 199X Petition Deadlines

Autumn 2024 – October 2, 2024, 3:00 pm
Winter 2025 – January 15, 2025, 3:00 pm
Spring 2025 – April 9, 2025, 3:00 pm


Working in a Lab Outside of Biology

Many students find research opportunities in labs outside the Biology Department. BIO 199X is available for declared Biology majors only. If you are not a Biology major, consider enrolling under your PI's home department subject code, e.g. MED 199. Once you declare the major, you will submit a BIO 199X petition and start enrolling under that subject code.

You must submit your BIO 199X petition within one quarter of declaring the Biology major in order to receive credit toward your major electives

For Honors, only your BIO 199/X units count from your junior and senior years.

Students only need to petition ONCE to work with the same sponsor. If you switch labs, you will be required to submit a new petition.

Appropriate Research Projects

The research field is expected to encompass biological concepts and processes. Projects should be empirical or theoretical biological research, consisting of independent and original scientific work by the student. Applied clinical, environmental, or technological studies may be appropriate in cases where there is a major analytical, experimental or observational component to the study, involving independent conceptual, field or laboratory work by the student. Simply collecting data or samples from human subjects or interviewees, collating data, doing repetitive technical work, or doing statistical analysis is not sufficient for Bio 199X credit. Students should discuss the nature of their projects with their Departmental advisors prior to petitioning for approval, if there is any doubt about appropriateness.

Research Sponsors

Sponsors should be Academic Council members (assistant, associate, or full professors) if possible. If you are not sure if your research sponsor is an Academic Council member, search on Stanford Who in the "Search in Stanford view." If your sponsor is not an Academic Council member you will need to find a faculty member in the Department of Biology to serve as a co-sponsor of your research. This can be your faculty advisor if appropriate.

Petition Procedure

To petition for BIO 199X credit, students must submit the following items to the Biology Form Submission website or in Gilbert 118:

Complete the Petition Form

Fill out the Petition and Research Sponsorship Form (Fillable)

Write a Description of Your Research

Your research proposal should be at least 2-3 pages in length (double spaced, not including references and figures) and should be organized as described below using the following headings. Also please include your Sponsor's name and department at the top.

  • Title of Research Project

  • Objective of research. Briefly and clearly state the question that your research is designed to address. Explain the specific aims of the research.

  • Background and Significance. Using appropriate background information which is appropriately referenced, indicate the significance of your research.

  • Experimental design. Describe the project design you will use to carry out your research including methods and materials. Indicate how these techniques will allow you to address your research question. Note the following: 1) research involving vertebrate animals requires that your sponsor have an approved Animal Use Protocol on file with the University Panel on Laboratory Animal Care; 2) work with radioactive substances requires certification in the University’s radiation safety course; 3) work with pathogenic organisms requires special training and precautions 4) work with human material requires that you complete the Human Subjects Training. If any of these apply, describe them in your proposal.

  • Possible results. Describe the expected outcome of your research, indicating how the data collected will be used to draw conclusions regarding the research question. Throughout your proposal, be specific about your own work: do not simply state the goals of the lab in which you are working. Stress the biological concepts you are using and your understanding of the methodology. The proposal should clearly show some level of independence in your research, the feasibility of the project, and an understanding of the basic biology involved. If this is your first Quarter of Bio 199X and you do not yet have your own project, but are helping someone else in the lab on their project while learning concepts and methods, then describe the project that you are working on instead.

  • References

Provide Sponsor Info Sheet to PI

Print or email the sponsor information sheet and give it to your sponsor for their reference.

Submit your Petition Form and Research Description to both your PI and major advisor well ahead of the submission deadline! Both readers will need time to review your proposal and provide feedback for revisions.

Questions about enrolling?

If you're unsure if you should enroll in BIO 199, BIO 199X, or something else (e.g. MED 199), use this decision tree to make your decision. Still unsure? ayalamac [at] (subject: BIO%20199X%20Enrollment) (Contact the student services office).

Decision tree to aid in enrolling in research units