Undergraduate Research in CMRG



Thank you for your interest in doing undergraduate research in CMRG. This page is intended for students interested in doing undergraduate research in our lab either during the academic year at UCSD for 199 Independent Research credit or during the summer as a volunteer summer intern either from UCSD or as a visitor from another institution.

What Do I Need to Know?

We welcome undergraduate research volunteers in the laboratory. However, a successful undergraduate research experience has several important requirements:

  • Safety training - before you can work in the lab you must have completed all appropriate safety training. At a minimum that always includes completing the Injury and Illness Prevention (IIP) course offered regularly by Environmental Health and Safety. University regulations mandate this training for anyone working in the laboratory, whether as an employee, student, volunteer or visitor. In addition, if you will be working with hazardous materials, animals, or special equipment, additional lab-specific safety training may be required. Training class schedules may be found on blink.ucsd.edu under "Personal Tools" in the UC Learning Center (search for Lab Safety and IIPP). You will need a UCSD Single Sign On account to access the UC Learning Center (self registration here: http://blink.ucsd.edu/technology/security/SSO/register.html)

  • Research training and supervision - even with basic safety training, the kinds of research we do in our lab involves specialized techniques for which you will need an experienced supervisor to teach you these techniques. While overall guidance and mentorship is provided by the Principal Investigators, who you will meet with weekly, day to day supervision and hands-on training will normally be provided by a research scientist, staff technician, postdoctoral scholar or graduate student. Part of the preparation for your undergraduate research project will involve identifying a supervisor. Providing this training requires our staff and research students to spend considerable time with you. Before they spend time training you, you need to make a commitment to follow up and spend the necessary time in the lab to make this investment of training time worthwhile. If you are not absolutely sure if you have the time and desire to commit to laboratory research, then undergraduate research is not for you.

  • Background preparation - Before you can begin working on a research project, you need to have an appropriate academic background for the project (such as a knowledge of the appropriate chemical, biological, physical and mathematical foundations required to understand and address the problem). You must also have read the relevant research literature. And finally, you must have a specific set of research aims and protocols that will be followed to address those aims. Obtaining this background knowledge and developing your plan is something that you will do with your project supervisor. If you are not willing to spend time reading the literature and reviewing your relevant course material, then you should not attempt an undergraduate research project.

These three steps take time, therefore the usual model for research in our group is to devote time during the quarter before you start your independent study project completing the above steps and then the next two quarters working on the project itself (it is ok for the two quarters to be Spring and Summer or Spring and Fall). Some of the training will continue during the 199 quarters, but at a minimum you need to obtain safety training, and identify a supervisor and project before you start.

How do I find a supervisor and project?

The best way to find a supervisor and project is to come along to our weekly lab meetings on Friday mornings at 9:30 am in PFBH 231. See the weekly lab meeting schedule. The meetings last about 90 minutes and different students and post-docs present their research. You won't understand everything but it will give you an idea of the nature of the research each lab member is doing. You may ask a question if you like. After the meeting, feel free to seek out students or post-docs whose work interested you to ask if you can help them. This is the best time to talk to researchers in the lab, because some of them work in different parts of the campus. We will go around the table during the lab meeting. When we get to you, say who your are, what you are interested and that you are available to work on a project in the lab with one of the students or post-docs. Roughly, our research falls into three types:

  • In Vitro Studies: These usually involve cells and cell culture including wet lab molecular and biochemical assays, immunohistochemistry and specialized biophysical studies such as electrophysiological recording. This research sometimes involves the use of viruses and other biohazards for which you will require additional safety training. These studies can be very expensive and time consuming. They often require spending time in the lab every single day including weekends and holidays when experiments are underway. There are only relatively few available spots for this kind of research and you can expect to spend a lot of time getting trained and learning basic techniques before you will be ready to do your own experiments.

  • In Vivo Studies: To participate in these studies in any way, even just data recording, you need to receive training in the use of Animal Subjects which then needs to be approved by the Animal Subjects Committee. Undergraduates never perform animal studies on their own or without skilled supervision. Studies can last all day, but for each day of the animal study there may be a month of data analysis. If you do not like spreadsheets, MATLAB, image processing programs, etc, or if you have ethical objections to humane research using animals, then the chances are that you will not be well suited to this type of research. Only the most dedicated undergraduate students have the patience and skill to do this kind of research.

  • In Silico (i.e. computational) Studies: These projects are best suited to undergraduate students because they require less training, can be performed on a more flexible schedule, and are better matched to the education and skills of most bioengineering students. Programs we use include Continuity, Blender, MATLAB, ImageJ, R, and iTK Snap. Programming languages we use most include Python, MATLAB, FORTRAN, C and Ruby. If you want to get a good headstart on this type of project, buy a book such as Learning Python by Mark Lutz and work through the tutorials on the Continuity web pages on this site. Typical projects may include generating computational models from medical image data or building a database of cellular or tissue biomechanics or electrophysiology models. Most available projects are of this type.

What Do I Do Next?

After you have identified a supervisor and project, you must notify our lab manager Jennifer Stowe who will get some important information from you, advise you on training, and (once you rate properly trained) give you a combination code to access the lab. You will start your project by getting training specific to your project and working on writing up a specific research plan. It is ok if you do not have a written research plan before the quarter of your 199 project begins, but you must at least have a research supervisor and topic identified by the beginning of the quarter and you should normally also have done the IIP training too. Regardless, by the end of the first quarter of 199 you must have completed all necessary training and have a detailed written research plan in place. We generally require that you commit to taking two quarters of 199 usually 4 units of credit. The 8 units of 199 may be eligible for Technical Elective credit in some majors.

What are the Requirements for a 199?

You should plan on attending the lab for at least ten hours per week and producing a written report at least ten printed pages in length at the end of the quarter before the end of finals week. The report at the end of the first quarter may be mostly a proposal and research plan with just preliminary results if available. Be sure to include a list of references for papers you have read. The paper at the end of the second quarter should be in the form of a research manuscript with Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and References.