Student Research Opportunities

UTSA is an amazing institution with many opportunities to get involved in undergraduate and graduate research!

To help you find a laboratory in the Department of Neuroscience, Developmental and Regenerative Biology (NDRB) that currently has openings for students to participate (non-paying) in cutting-edge research, see the table of available research opportunities below.

How to Make Contact

  1. Find a project described in the table of available research opportunities below that matches closest to your interests.
  2. Visit the NDRB faculty webpage or their lab website (if they have one) and do a bit of homework to understand the investigator's area(s) of interest.
  3. The big question: do the interests of the lab match your interests? You should be able to clearly articulate – to yourself and others – why you are interested in working in that lab.
  4. Using the contact information provided, email the following:
    • Your name and that you are interested in working on a particular project as posted on the website (include project number)
    • Your major and how many credit hours you have completed toward your degree.
    • If minimum requirements are stated, respond to each item.
    • If a CV or completed form is requested, include it as an attachment.
    • Provide the amount of time you have available to commit.
    • Explain in 1-3 sentences why you are interested in the laboratory.
    • Note the deadline for applying (if there is one). If there is a deadline, you most likely will be notified within 1-2 weeks (or sooner) if the laboratory is interested in scheduling an interview.

If you have any questions about this process, please contact the Assistant Chair Dr. David Jaffe.

students in lab microscope NDRB logo

Available Research Opportunities

last updated: September 12, 2022
PI and Project
Alfonso Apicella, PhD
Associate Professor
»email  »profile  »lab

AA1: Anatomical characterization of cortical neurons
AA2: Active avoidance
AA3: Fear conditioning
AA4: RNAseq

Level: Undergraduate or Master's thesis

Minimum Requirements:

  • Neurobiology
  • Matlab coding
  • Arduino

Time Committment: 19 hours/week

Application Deadline: none

Description: Cortical microcircuits process sensory information to drive behavior. Deciphering how populations of neurons encode information, generate perceptions, and execute behavioral decisions requires working at both the cellular and system levels.

Lacy Barton, PhD
Assistant Professor
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LB1: Investigations into how proper primordial germ cell development supports fertility and health of the next generation using classic Drosophila melanogaster genetics, microscopy, molecular biology, and in vitro cell assays

Level: Undergraduate or Master's

Minimum Requirements:

  • successful completion of an introductory biology class with an associated laboratory section
  • comfort working with fruit flies
  • ability to sit at a microscope for one to two hours at a time
  • ability to follow verbal and written multi-step directions
  • ability to take notes well enough to use to precisely replicate techniques you’ve been shown
  • ability to work independently and as a team in a manner that is respectful to all lab members

Time Committment: 5 hours/week for an introductory volunteer period (which will last 2-3 months). If everything is going well and you want to stay, we will shift away from volunteer status. To do your own research project after the introductory volunteer period, we require a commitment of 10-15 hours/week for a minimum of 6 months (9 months if including the introductory period).

Application Deadline: Please email your materials by the end of the third week of every Fall and Spring semester starting Spring 2023 (first deadline is February 3, 2023).

Jenny Hsieh, PhD
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JH2: Single cell RNA-seq analysis of 3D brain organoids

Level: Undergraduate or Master’s

Minimum Requirements:

  • effective communication and good manual dexterity
  • strong coding experience in languages such as R/Python is mandatory
  • familiarity with network modeling and machine learning deeply appreciated
  • familiarity with statistical methodologies deeply appreciated
  • familiarity with UTSA High Performance Computing (HPC) cluster Arc is a plus
  • familiarity with TACC servers at UT Austin is also appreciated
  • understanding of very basic biology concepts such as replication, transcription, and translation is a plus but students with pure computational background are also highly encouraged to apply and can be taught the basics as required
  • enthusiasm towards learning biology and applying the concepts towards solving problems is highly desired


  • perform data analysis and help develop robust pipeline for identification of GRNs in iPSC derived organoids using published network modeling methodologies
  • participate in lab meetings and team meetings
  • keep good record of day-to-day work in the lab
  • participate in lab meetings and team meetings (e.g., biweekly meeting with the supervisor to discuss progress of the project)

Time Committment: 15-19 hours/week

Application Deadline:

  • applications accepted on a rolling basis, contact Parul Varma for more information.

Description: Work on research projects that involve identifying cell type specific gene regulatory networks using scRNA seq datasets from brain organoids. This project is anticipated to identify crucial molecular targets for therapeutic intervention in genetic epilepsy.

David Jaffe, PhD
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DJ1: Role of aberrant adult born granule cells in the generation of electrographic seizures in the hippocampal formation
DJ2: Gating of pain information through dorsal root ganglia

Level: Master's thesis

Minimum Requirements:

  • undergraduate Neurobiology or equivalent

Time Committment: 19 hours/week

Application Deadline: none

Description: Projects are available for two motivated Masters students interested in thesis research. The first project (DJ1) involves recording of seizure activity from awake behaving animals. The goal is to understand how aberrant adult born granule cells affect hippocampal circuitry and, in turn, seizure activation. The goal of the second project (DJ2) is to understand how pain signals are filtered at the level of dorsal root ganglion. Students will make recordings from nerve fibers and individual neurons to determine the underlying mechanisms of action potential filtering under different experimental conditions.

Robert Renthal, PhD
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RR1: Insect odorant receptors
RR2: Photochemical tags for biochemical analysis of insect antennal lipids and proteins
RR3: Antennal touch receptors in ants

Level: Undergraduate or Master's

Minimum Requirements:

  • Organic Chemistry
  • some coding experience (any language)

Time Committment: at least 10 hours/week

Application Deadline: none

Fidel Santamaria, PhD
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FS2: Unifying neuronal simulation environments in Python
FS3: Computational and experimental neuroscience of the cerebellum

Level: Undergraduate or Master's

Minimum Requirements:

  • coding experience a must
  • MATLAB and Python preferred

Time Committment: 5-20 hours/week

Application Deadline: none

Todd Troyer, PhD
Associate Professor
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TT1: Dta modeling of neural responses in auditory cortex of Mexican Freetail bats
TT2: Modeling firing rate response dynamics in simple model neurons

Level: Undergraduate or Master's thesis

Minimum Requirements:

  • some background in calculus
  • some familiarity with computer programming
  • willingness to learn
  • exposure to concepts of model optimization optimal for work on bat auditory responses

Time Committment: flexible, but at least 7 hours/week

Application Deadline: none

Description: Space is available for computationally motivated students to work on data modeling/theoretical studies of timing in neural circuits. Students will mostly work individually in collaboration with Dr. Troyer: most work can be done wherever on a student’s laptop. It is expected that students will meet roughly weekly with Dr. Troyer. Students with only an initial exposure to math and programming skills are welcome, but success requires student with initiative and ability to succeed in a loosely structured environment.

  • TT1: Dr. Michael Smotherman at Texas A&M has recorded auditory response from neurons in bat auditory cortex. Work is needed to build models to characterize the computations performed by these neurons.
  • TT2: It is generally assumed that response times of neurons should be limited by the timescales of membrane integration, but preliminary simulations show that response times result from a mix of fast and slow dynamics. The nature of this mix will be investigated by simulating noisy spiking neurons.