RISE Undergraduate Research
Undergraduate level RISE students participate in diverse activities designed to assist them toward successful careers in the research sciences. One of the most significant is participation in laboratory research.
All RISE Undergraduate students perform laboratory research on the UTSA campus, part time during the Fall and Spring semester (15 hours/week), and full time (40 hours/week) during the summer when they are not at a summer research program. Students work in the laboratory of a UTSA faculty member who serves as their faculty mentor. Students are expected to stay in this laboratory until they graduate unless circumstances dictate otherwise (see Dr. Taylor if you wish to change labs).
Why Students Perform Research
Students perform research:
- To gain valuable experience
- Because it's required for PhD program admission
- To obtain letters of recommendation
Do not underestimate the importance of the letter of recommendation that you will obtain from your laboratory mentor. You can get all the experience in the world on a variety of techniques, but if the letter from your mentor is weak, you are probably not going to get into a good graduate program. Really. As a result, it's important to make a strong positive impression while you are in the lab. For an optimum letter, you want to show them that you have the following characteristics: Excitement about research, hard working, teachable, learns from mistakes, resilient when making mistakes, critical thinking (ideas about your project and what it means!), willingness to dig into the literature, curiosity, problem solving, thinking about experimental design, reasonably mature, responsible (show up when you say that you will!), and able to work well with others. If you do not have all of these characteristics, that's okay... just don't come off as lazy or uninterested! Click here for a PowerPoint that describes how to start off correctly in the laboratory.
How to Find a Faculty Mentor
The RISE program has a list of approved mentors, from whom students should choose. If a new RISE student is already in a laboratory, they are generally allowed to continue in that lab, but the mentor must submit a RISE Mentor application that will be reviewed by the RISE Administrative Committee. If a new RISE student does NOT have a mentor on entry, the student should review the list of mentors and select approximately five (5) to show to Dr. Taylor. She will advise the student on mentor choice and provide advice regarding how to approach these researchers. Students are advised, minimally, to pre-read at least one of the mentor's scientific papers (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) and to create a minimal CV prior to interviewing. Once in the lab, you will likely be working with (and even trained by) someone other than your mentor, but it's still the mentor's lab!
Once you (and your mentor) have decided that you will enter a lab, you will likely have to take various safety classes.
All students must have completed following training course prior to beginning work in any lab:
- Hazard Communication/Lab Safety – SA 443
- Hazardous Waste Generator – SA 401
For biology labs, additional training must be taken as well. This includes:
- Bloodborne Pathogens – SA 419
- Biosafety – SA 467
For labs that use radioactive materials and/or lasers, the following training is also required:
- Laser Safety Awareness – SA 453
- Laser User – SA 465
- UTSA Radiation Safety – SA 433
Most of these courses are currently offered online and can be found at the following website: http://training.utsa.edu. They are also offered monthly in an classroom style setting on West Campus. Please contact Michael Grimes at x4882 if you have any trouble with this training.
In the Lab
Once in the laboratory, remember that you are now a "member" of that lab. You might shadow someone and learn techniques at the beginning. Quickly read any papers that the mentor provides to you to read (click here for a PowerPoint about how to read a paper) and be prepared to answer questions about them! (note: it might take you a couple of hours to read one paper). Make every effort to attend laboratory meetings; these are extremely important for your development and demonstrate your commitment to the lab. You may also receive a laboratory "job" that you will perform to assist with laboratory maintenance. Very soon, you should begin to perform experiments, hopefully on your own research project. As you prove yourself more and more, you will likely be given greater responsibility in the lab. Remember...you need to clean up your own mess and complete your own experiments!
The first year that you are in the lab, you will be expected to submit an abstract to the ABRCMS or SACNAS conferences. You will work with your mentor to complete a summary of your research and will send it in before the deadline. You will also register for the conference (the program will pay). Before the conference, you will create a poster or oral presentation that you will give at the conference. In subsequent years, you will attend a major scientific conference with your research mentor; again, the program will pay.
Hopefully, over time, you will complete sufficient research that your work will be submitted as part of a scientific paper. It's great to be anywhere in the list of authors; it's best to be first author, but this means that you were also the primary person performing the research.