University of Southern California

USC Neuroscience

Undergraduate Research

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. Getting hands-on experience in a lab is a great way to fully understand how new scientific knowledge is created. Please read through the information on this page carefully to devise your own plan for how to make research experience an important part of your undergraduate training.

Our advice is to start working in a lab during your sophomore year - if not before! A first step is to define your area of interest and/or level of analysis, and then make a list of at least 3-4 faculty by studying their pages - start by clicking on the "Faculty" link to the left or going to http://www.usc.edu/programs/neuroscience/faculty/.

You will need to contact faculty members well in advance (usually 1-4 months) to see if they have space in their labs to take on a new person. Be persistent! The knowledge you gain by seeing first-hand how research is conducted is a fantastic exercise in acquiring self-taught knowledge (even though you will get a lot of help along the way). As a result of working in a lab, you may decide to engage in a career in research and teaching. USC provides fellowships for research activities - see Links and Opportunities.

Research for Unit Credit: NEUR 490
Time Management
Faculty Sponsors
Research for Unit Credit (BISC 290)
Frequently Asked Questions
Links and Opportunities

Research for Unit Credit: NEUR 490

Students with junior or senior standing interested in earning credit for research may register for NEUR 490: Directed Research (pre-requisite: GPA > 3.0), or a Directed Research course in another Department with approval as long as the project is Neuroscience-related. Students may choose to earn 2 or 4 units of credit in NEUR 490, the units awarded being dependent on hours per week spent in the lab; the rule of thumb is that students spend 4 hours/week in the lab for each unit of credit. Students who earn 4 units in NEUR 490 may apply this coursework to the Neuroscience major. NEUR 490 coursework receives a letter grade.

NEUR 490 research projects require a minimum 3.0 GPA (science and cumulative) and approval by the Neuroscience Major Co-Directors. All projects must contain a substantial component of neuroscience research - i.e., they must be a neuroscience project as opposed to one in biology or psychology that does not involve investigation of neural mechanisms. NEUR 490 requires the support of a faculty sponsor whose lab is engaged in neuroscience research, so you will need to find a sponsor well in advance.

You will need to start planning your project and writing the research description for the application form at least a month in advance of the deadline, working with your faculty sponsor.

Please see the applications form for further instructions. We have also posted an example of an excellent research proposal there.

Consider joining the Honors program in Neuroscience! Honors students must have a GPA of 3.5 or better. In addition to taking 4 units of NEUR 490 Honors students also take a proseminar (BISC 493) and write a thesis (BISC 494). Click on the Honors Program link (above right) for more details.

Research applications must be submitted by the first week of classes in the semester in which you wish to enroll. Remember: this means you need to alert your advisor and start working on your proposal well in advance! You can submit your proposal either by: a) Dropping a hard copy off to Gloria Wan in HNB 120G, or

b) (PREFERRED) Sending the application as an email attachment to Gloria Wan at yuhungw@dornsife.usc.edu. If done this way, please fill out the PDF Application form using the Typewriter function, and sign the form using a verified electronic signature in Adobe (i.e., use the Sign feature in Adobe). Please also have your faculty advisor sign the form electronically in Adobe if you plan to make your submission via email. An alternative is to fill out the form manually (preferably typed but if not make sure it is legible), sign it, have your advisor sign it, and scan it. You will then need to create a single pdf including the form and your research proposal.

Please make arrangements to meet with your sponsor well in advance (at least 3 weeks), and allow about one week for a decision from the Department Co-Directors following submission. Once research proposals have been approved, students will be granted D-Clearance and will be able to enroll in the course.

Students requesting 2 unit credits for NEUR 490 are expected to be actively working in their chosen lab eight hours per week, while students requesting 4 unit credits of NEUR 490 are expected to be in the lab sixteen hours per week.


Time Management

Students who sign up for NEUR 490 are expected to spend a minimum of three to four hours of weekly lab work per credit hour (e.g., 4 credits would require12 to 16 hours per week in the lab). Some students prefer to pursue their project by signing up for 2 credits of 490 in two consecutive semesters (i.e., eight to 10 hours per week of lab work for two semesters). Students who pursue this option are expected to work on the same project with the same sponsor both semesters. Joining a lab represents a serious commitment. A research lab will spend considerable time and energy helping you to learn the ropes and acquire research skills. In turn, it is expected that you show up exactly on time whenever you are scheduled to be in the lab and carry out your work with scrupulous care and attention to detail. Do not even consider working in a lab if you are not prepared to meet these responsibilities.


Faculty Sponsors

The selection of a faculty sponsor is an important aspect of the research experience. Your sponsor may be any regular faculty member of the university who is carrying out neuroscience research in a university laboratory. Neuroscience research is broadly defined, but the project must involve basic research and cannot be clinical medicine. The selection of a sponsor is a student-initiated process and should involve your becoming familiar with several faculty members’ research interests. Once you have looked over the web pages of faculty in whose labs you are interested, you can do further web searches and/or read published papers from that lab.

Most faculty members will accept undergraduates in their laboratories if they have space and funding, and if they are impressed by your interest and preparation. Once you know the rules and regulations for 290/490 projects, you should make a list of three to five faculty members whose research interests you and contact them to set up an appointment to see if they have an opening in their labs. Be aware that faculty members are very busy and you will need to plan well in advance to meet with them, write a proposal with their guidance, and meet the deadline for submission of your proposal.


Research for Unit Credit (BISC 290):

Sophomores interested in earning credit for research may register for BISC 290: Introduction to Biological Research (pre-requisites: 220L/221L; CHEM-105aL and 105bL). BISC 290 is graded Credit/No Credit, and students may earn 2 or 4 units for successful course completion; units awarded depend on number of hours per week spent in the lab (1 unit = 4 hours work/week). While BISC 290 does not satisfy any Neuroscience major requirements, participation provides valuable research experience, and allows students to earn school credit for research work. Units earned in BISC 290 will go toward the 128 units needed to complete the USC degree, as well as to the College Unit Requirement.

BISC 290 research applications must be submitted to Linda Bazilian in AHF 105A/ AHF 107D, by the end of the first week of classes in the semester in which you wish to enroll.


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 bazilian@usc.edu at the conclusion of the semester. For NEUR490, your sponsor will need to submit your final grade via email to Gloria Wan yuhungw@dornsife.usc.edu

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.


Links and Opportunities:

Here are some URLs for undergraduate research fellowships from USC:

USC Undergraduate Research (includes SOAR and SURF):

http://dornsife.usc.edu/undergraduate-research-opportunities/.

Provost's Fellowship:

http://www.usc.edu/programs/ugprograms/ugresearch/fellowships.shtml

URAP:

www.usc.edu/programs/ugprograms/ugresearch/faculty_urp.shtml

USC Office of Undergraduate Programs:

http://undergrad.usc.edu/research/.

* Undergraduate Symposium - Present a poster in April describing your research
* Research Fellowships - Get paid to do research (see links above)
* And many more opportunities

General info on Undergraduate Research at USC:

http://www.usc.edu/programs/ugprograms/ugresearch/.

www.usc.edu/programs/ugprograms/ugresearch/oncampus_index.shtml/.

Research Initiatives at USC:

www.usc.edu/research/.

*Research groups and centers

WiSE (Women in Science & Engineering)

www.usc.edu/wise/.

WiSE Undergraduate Research Grants:

http://www.usc.edu/programs/wise/programs/undergrad_research/

McNair Scholars

www.usc.edu/mcnair/.

USC Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program

http://www.usc.edu/student-affairs/MMUF/programs_eligibility.shtml.

USC Rose Hills Fellowships for residents of Southern California

http://www.usc.edu/programs/ugprograms/ugresearch/rose_hill.shtml .