USC undergraduate students have the opportunity to work in research labs and engage in studies that address the principal challenges of neuroscience: that is, to learn about and analyze brain and behavior at multiple levels. There has never been a more exciting time to study Neuroscience, as the tremendous advances of the last 50 years are applied to fundamental questions of enormous complexity using new methodologies. Neuroscientists are developing ways to tackle questions such as: how does the brain engender sensation and perception, learning and memory, mind and consciousness, and emotions such as fear, joy and anger? Addressing these questions requires both imagination and interdisciplinary efforts. Getting hands-on experience in a lab is a great way to fully understand how new scientific knowledge is created.
Undergraduate Research Courses (BISC 290/NEUR 490)
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are Introduction to Biological Research and Directed Research?
These are courses that give undergraduate students the opportunity to work in the laboratory of a USC faculty member as a research assistant. BISC 290 (Introduction to Biological Research) does not count toward any Neuroscience degree requirements. NEUR490 (Directed Research) may count toward up to 4 units of Upper Division elective credit for Neuroscience majors.
2. Who is Directed Research for?
Students with sophomore standing can participate in BISC 290 (assuming completion of BISC 220); students with junior or higher standing (64 or more units) may participate in NEUR490.
3. What will I be doing throughout the course of my research experience?
This is entirely based upon the plan you and your faculty sponsor lay out during the application process. Your duties in the lab will depend on your prior research experience, interests, and the necessities of the lab. You will likely employ some of the techniques you have learned through your laboratory coursework. It is important that you not participate merely as a “drone” or errand person, but that you are engaged intellectually. One criterion is that your participation allows you, assuming that the research goes well, to be a co-author on a conference presentation (poster or talk) or publication. See question #9 below.
4. How do I sign up? Am I eligible?
In order to participate in either BISC 290 or NEUR490, you will need to submit an application (found at http://dornsife.usc.edu/bisc/undergraduate/forms/ and UNDERGRADUATE NEUR FORMS WEBSITE LINK). The minimum overall and science GPA to apply for either course is 3.0. This may include courses taken outside of USC. Your sponsor must be a USC faculty member. For the application, you will need to develop a proposal for your research with your faculty sponsor (a description in your own words of your role and responsibility in this research), and include an abstract or cover page from a research article related to the work you will be doing, and your faculty sponsor’s CV if they are not associated with the Neuroscience Program. You need to start developing your proposal in conjunction with your faculty sponsor one month before the deadline for submitting your application.
5. What are my chances of being accepted? Is the process competitive?
The application process is not competitive. Any student who is eligible for the course and whose proposal meets the criteria will be accepted.
6. How will my work be evaluated?
Your faculty sponsor will assign your grade based on the criteria mutually agreed upon at the beginning of the semester. The student is responsible for initiating this conversation with their sponsor. Typically, sponsors evaluate their students on lab attendance, performance and the final project (discussed below). For BISC290,Your sponsor will need to submit your final grade via email to Linda Bazilian email@example.com at the conclusion of the semester. For NEUR490, your sponsor will need to submit your final grade via email to Gloria Wan firstname.lastname@example.org
7. What are the criteria for a research proposal? Who will review my application?
For BISC 290, proposals where the research techniques are biological in nature are likely to be accepted, especially if the faculty sponsor is in the Biology department. For NEUR490, projects focused in Neuroscience are likely to be accepted. Projects focused on clinical research trials may not qualify. Please note that BISC 290 is run through the Department of Biological Sciences, while NEUR 490 runs through the Neuroscience Major Program. The Vice Chair of Biological Sciences reviews all applications for BISC 290. The Co-Directors of the Neuroscience Major review all NEUR 490 applications.
8. What are the course requirements?
For every one unit of BISC 290/NEUR 490, you are expected to work in the lab for 4 hours per week. For example, if you are taking 4 units of NEUR 490, you are expected to work in the lab for 16 hours per week. Also, you will be expected to turn in a final project, due on the last day of finals for that semester. Only one final project will be required, so if you plan on taking two semesters of NEUR 490 you’ll only need to turn in one project at the end of the second semester. You should discuss what this final project will be with your faculty sponsor. Typical projects include: research papers, PowerPoint presentations, or posters. The Biological Sciences Department and Neuroscience Major do not have any specific requirements for this project, but you will need to turn in a copy of your project to the BISC/NEUR Department (specifically, Glen Smith for BISC 290, Gloria Wan for NEUR 490) in addition to your faculty sponsor.
9. I’m interested but I have no idea on how to find a sponsor.
It is critically important that you make an informed decision as to the lab in which you would do your research. Talk to your current instructors, graduate students and undergraduates who have had relevant experience. Review the websites of the labs. Visit the “Research” tab on the Neuroscience website (www.usc.edu/programs/neuroscience) to locate faculty by research topic, and perhaps review some recent papers of the lab. There often are more students wanting to work in a lab than there are available positions, so in your initial communication (usually best by an email) to the lab director, you should detail your interest and relevant background that might enhance your value to the lab (i.e., coursework, programming and lab skills, math skills). Other websites describing possible labs are the PIBBS Faculty Research Topics website and the Programs in Biomedical & Biological Sciences site, which has a page where students can locate faculty who are predominantly working in biomedical research on the USC Health Sciences Campus. Many pre-health/pre-med students have participated in exciting research experiences in labs on the Health Sciences Campus with their faculty. If you are still having difficulty locating a faculty sponsor or you would like additional tips, please speak with your academic advisor.