Skip to Main Content

Undergraduate Research

The Bachelor of Science degree offered by Florida International University is certified by the American Chemical Society. This program requires the student to take at least 3 semester credits of CHM 4910L, completing an undergraduate research project in chemistry under the direction of a research faculty member. This page is designed to clarify the expectations of this research requirement and provide guidance through the process of selecting a research mentor.

Undergraduate research provides you the opportunity to be an active contributor to the extension of the body of knowledge in chemistry and/or biochemistry. You will work directly with one of the research groups in the Department. At the conclusion of the research project, you will be expected to author a report, written in the style and format of a research publication in an ACS peer-reviewed journal.

It is quite possible the results of your efforts will become a component of a presentation at a major national or international scientific meeting and/or a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. This might be as a co-author or in some instances even as the first author of a poster, oral presentation or publication. Every year a number of our undergraduate students travel to the meetings of the American Chemical Society or another major scientific meeting where they present their work to other scientists in the discipline.

It is expected that each student will need to spend between 15-20 hours/week working in the laboratory and become an active member of their chosen research group. This includes attending group meetings and other activities. Fulfillment of undergraduate research project and the assignment of a passing grade in CHM 4910L, typically encompasses several semesters of involvement with a project. It is rare that a student can complete this requirement in less than two semesters. We encourage all Bachelor of Science in Chemistry or Biochemistry Majors to begin thinking about the selection of a research mentor no later than the conclusion of Organic Chemistry II (CHM 2211).

  • Preparing for Undergraduate Research

    Each student is required to undergo safety training in order to work in a chemistry laboratory. All students are required to complete the "core training" series. Additionally, most students will also be required to take the "Chemical Safety Training" series. Depending on the research area, other courses may required. These will be made clear once you have joined a research group. Safety trainings are found via the Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

    • The core training must be completed just before you begin working in any lab. Once this training has been completed, you are required to print out the certificate and provide copies for both the major professor and the lab manager
    • Prior to beginning your work in the laboratory, you should also review the material from your courses and elsewhere which might be useful for the particular area in research you have chosen. You should ask your prospective group members what material would be most useful to review.
    • Familiarity with search engines, such as the Science Citation Index, SciFinder Scholar and other sources available at the library, may be most useful. Visit this library site and click on "Databases" for a list.

    For more information on getting started, read the undergraduate research flyer.

  • Research Groups

    Listed in Expertise are the various research groups that are working with undergraduate chemistry students in the Department The table indicates the general sub-discipline and/or emphasis of the research. Notice that some groups carry out research in various areas and may be listed several times and in different sub-disciplines/research emphases.

    In order to better decide on which area of research to choose, there are several opportunities you may be able to take advantage of to learn more about the projects that are being carried out. Some of these are:

    • Graduate Visitation Day (prospective graduate students visit the department. Faculty present their research)
    • Undergraduate Seminar (As part of the requirement for graduation, the capstone course is CHM 4930. During this class Senior Graduate Students present a seminar. Often the student who have carried out undergraduate research will present their research findings. This is s good place to learn about the research being carried out in each group). In this page will be posted information about these presentations as they occur.
    • Weekly Departmental Seminars
    • Undergraduate Research Forum
    • Graduate Student Orientation
    • MBRS-RISE Symposium
  • Approaching a Research Group

    Once you have looked over the materials that have been presented in this web page, it is best to narrow your search to only a few research groups. You should then contact the group and express an interest in working with them. You can begin the conversation by writing the major professor or designee a formal email introducing yourself, letting them know the reason you are writing this email and asking them for either more information about the possible research projects which are available in their group or possibly arranging to have a meeting. Alternatively, the professor might ask you to attend their group meetings so you can determine if you are really interested in working with the group.

    Remember that a research project is not usually done over one semester. This process should be begun at least one semester prior to enrollment into the CHM 4910L course. You will then be expected to work with the group for one year after that. This is a decision you should begin thinking about early and thoroughly before choosing a research adviser.

  • Research Course Descriptions

    CHM 4910L Undergraduate Research in Chemistry (3).

    The student works directly with a professor on a research project. Credit is assigned based on 4 hr/wk laboratory/library work per credit hour. A written report is required. Report must be submitted to the Undergraduate Research Committee for approval. For additional credits of undergraduate research student must register for CHM 4911L. (F,S,SS)

    CHM 4911L Undergraduate Research 2 (1-20).

    Faculty directed research in chemistry. Credit is assigned based on 4 hr/wk laboratory/library work per credit hour. May be repeated. Prerequisite: CHM 4910L. (F,S,SS)

  • Getting an "A"

    What do you need to do?

    You are starting your undergraduate research and you want to get an A. More importantly, you want to ensure that you get the most benefit out of the experience as you can. Each lab and each PI (Principle Investigator- a term that refers to your advisor) has their own unique character, each lab addresses different questions, and each PI will have different expectations from you. No one can set out a list of concepts or content that you need to master and that you will be tested on to earn your grade. However, there are some common characteristics that each PI is looking for in their students. Here are some:

    Engagement. This is your project. Take ownership. Demonstrate to your PI that you are involved. You should be doing more than going through the motions just to get data or doing only what your PI explicitly tells you to do. Do a thorough literature search and READ the papers. This means you have to learn how to use the library and SciFinder. Please don’t tell your PI that you found the information on Google or Wikipedia! Suggest some experiments based on your readings.

    Effort. Getting results in the lab takes time. Put in the hours that are needed. Most PIs will expect you to be in the lab WORKING (chatting with your lab mates does not count) a certain number of hours per week. Of course faculty understand that some weeks you may have one or more big exams and most PIs will be flexible with the hours under certain circumstances, but you will be expected to make up time missed.

    Understanding. When you present your experimental plan or your results, if you don’t understand the experiments that you have planned or executed, it becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly. Demonstrate that you have taken the time do the background research to really understand what you are talking about. Be able to answer questions from your audience. ANYTHING you present is fair game. It is ok if you don’t always know the answer, and it is ok to speculate based on your knowledge, your readings or some other precedent, but don’t try to BS your way through a question when you have no idea. BE READY!

    Initiative. Again, this is your project, take ownership. Do some reading of the literature above and beyond what your PI may have assigned you. Curiosity. Ask questions: especially during your group meetings. This is the time when the students have their advisors attention. Use that time to your benefit. When you have no questions, your advisor will conclude that you have not attempted to learn. Ask questions about other student’s projects, not just your own.

    Persistence. You are doing research. You are not repeating experiments that have been done thousands of times and tweaked to perfection over a period of decades (like the experiments you do in your laboratory classes). The majority of experiments you attempt will fail. Get used to it. If you can’t get used to it, then get out of research. What this means is that to get results you need to do many, many experiments, to troubleshoot and to adapt. This means you have to think about WHY an experiment failed. Pay attention, because every failed experiment can tell you something.

    Responsibility. You are responsible both to your PI and your lab mates. Be present during the times you have committed. If you cannot be present, then let someone know. Your PI or immediate supervisor (who may be a postdoc or grad student) may have arranged to do an experiment with you, or may have an important task for you so let them know if you can’t come in. Take care of the equipment and don’t waste supplies. If you use up a critical reagent, TELL SOMEONE. CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF!! Most people are surprised at how much of a mess they can make in the lab. If you see something that needs to be cleaned, organized or put away just do it. Don’t whine about whose job it is or who left it out. Basically, act like a grown-up.

    Cooperation. Get along with your lab mates. You will likely have to share equipment. Don’t hog equipment time, share your lab space, be a good co-worker. Your PI will probably ask the graduate students that you work with about your attitude and ability. Don’t piss them off.

    Organization. If your PI asks you for some data or to see an NMR spectra or to see your notebook, be able to put your hands on your experimental records and data quickly. This means that it needs to be well documented and organized. There is nothing worse than waiting while a student shuffles through their NMR data for that one critical spectra. Even worse for you if you cannot find it.

    All of these characteristics take time to develop. You PI will not expect you to dive in and demonstrate all of these characteristics at once. But he/she will most definitely be assessing your development in all of the above. Do you want an exemplary letter for graduate or medical school? Then earn it.

    So what does a student need to do to get an A? This really depends on the laboratory and your advisor. In all labs it is possible to get an A. In some labs, it is rarer than others. It is the exceptional student who earns the top grade. A good grade is definitely attainable.

    The importance of research is not in the grade you receive; it is in the experience you gain. A lot of learning occurs when undergraduate students do research; learning that is different from that obtained via normal coursework. Research will give you a better understanding for the discipline of chemistry or biochemistry. Many students learn how they want to focus their efforts after their first research experience. The more the student is challenged the more accomplished they will feel at the completion of their experience. Like anything else, the more effort you put into the experience, the more benefit you will receive.

  • Research Resources