Join the MCB research community

As an undergraduate student researcher

You will gain hands-on experience using state-of-the-art technology, following scientific procedures, and honing your analytical and communications skills. Such experiences also often help inform decisions on pursuing postgraduate education. Undergraduate researchers are eligible to earn course credit for their work.

Remote Media URL

MCB Workshop for Undergraduate Researchers


Learn more about how to become an undergraduate researcher.

Workshop slides

Guide to Student Profile Database

Finding a research lab

Students must apply to an approved faculty lab. We encourage students to look for a faculty mentor before your junior year. However, you may start as an undergraduate researcher as early as your academic plan will allow.

  1. Meet with your academic advisor, attend an Undergraduate Research Information Session or view the information session online to learn more about undergraduate research in MCB.
  2. Make a list of possible faculty labs. Use the MCB Faculty Directory and explore the "Research across the school" section of the MCB Research page. You may also look at faculty in other departments or programs across campus (e.g. chemistry, psychology, neuroscience, biophysics, veterinary medicine, crop sciences, kinesiology). Note: work carried out in a non-MCB lab requires prior approval from Alejandra Stenger ( for enrollment in MCB 290.
  3. Create an online profile using the MCB 290 Student Profile Database. Once created, you can send a link to your profile to MCB faculty. Non-MCB faculty may not have access to this system unless they have been pre-approved. For those faculty, you will need to send them a separate document or resume. Your online profile may be completed at any time and will remain active in the database for six months. Questions about the profile can be directed to
  4. Email faculty introducing yourself and expressing your interest in conducting research in their lab. Ask if they have room in their lab for the semester you are considering, and offer to meet with them. You may need to send follow up emails or meet the faculty member during posted office hours or in their lab. Remember to be professional. You are asking them to devote their time and resources to training you as a research scientist.
  5. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the faculty member's expectations. How many hours do they expect you to spend in lab? When is it OK to work in the lab? How will your grade be assessed? Is there a minimum number of semesters you are expected to work? What about summers? Will you be expected to present your work or write a senior thesis? What should you do if you decide this experience is not working out?
  6. Once you have found a lab to work in, fill out the appropriate form requesting credit for MCB 290. (See Obtaining Credit section on how to fill out the forms.) The form must be submitted and approved by your PI prior to the deadline to add a UG POT 1 course for processing.

Eligibility and obtaining credit via MCB 290 and MCB 492 forms

Once you have found a lab to work in, fill out the appropriate form requesting credit for MCB 290 (renewal/request form) or MCB 492 (for graduating seniors planning to write a thesis). The form must be submitted and approved by your P.I. prior to the deadline to add a UG POT 1 course.

MCB 290 request/renewal form
MCB 492 form for graduating seniors planning to write a senior thesis

The deadline to add MCB 290 and MCB 492 is the 10th day of class during fall and spring and 7th day of class during summer. Students may not be allowed to add either of these courses after the deadline. If you continue research in future semesters, be sure to renew your credit using the appropriate form by the deadline.

Eligibility for MCB 290 credit

  • To be eligible to receive the MCB 290 credit, you must be a declared major in Biology, MCB or MCB Honors conducting research in an approved laboratory at UIUC. Students in the Biochemistry Specialized Curriculum should adhere to guidelines specific to their major. Non-Biology/MCB majors are ineligible to receive MCB 290 credit.
  • You must be in good academic standing, with a recommended GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • You cannot receive monetary payment or any other form of academic credit based on the research for which MCB 290 credit is earned.
  • You must enroll in the course by the university deadline to add a semester course using the appropriate form.

Reminder: MCB 290 and MCB 492 are taken for a letter grade. Be sure to communicate with the faculty member about how your grade will be determined.

To complete the forms, you will need the netid of the faculty member you are working with and you'll be asked to indicate if they are MCB or Non-MCB faculty. Please see documents below to determine whether the lab you are working in is a School of MCB lab or not. If the faculty name is listed in the official MCB faculty document, you should choose MCB lab on the MCB 290 or MCB 292 request form. If the faculty is listed in the Affiliate Faculty document or if they are not listed either document, you should choose non-MCB lab. The P.I. is the faculty member in charge of the lab, not a graduate student or post-doc.

Official List of School of MCB Faculty as of August 2023

Official List of School of MCB Faculty as of August 2023

School of MCB Affiliate Faculty List as of August 2023

Click "Fill Out New Form" and enter your information carefully. The form will be emailed to your P.I. for approval, then automatically directed to the Instructional Program Office for processing. You will receive an email from the MCB Instructional Program ( with the CRN for registration once it has been processed. Please watch your email carefully and be sure to enter the CRN you receive in Enterprise Self-Service before the campus deadlines. MCB 290 will default to 1 credit hour, so you will need to change that to the requested number of hours in Self-Service/Enhanced Registration/Schedule and Options. The hours value will be underlined if it is variable. Simply click on the underlined value and edit as necessary. MCB 492 will default to 3 credit hours, but can be changed to 4 or 5 based on your agreed upon time in lab.

For students working in an affiliate MCB lab, when you are asked for a research proposal, attach this document indicating you are working in an affiliate lab.

Students working in non-MCB and non-affiliate labs: You will be required to upload a document that provides a detailed description of the proposed research project, written by you, the student, with the guidance of your P.I. or lab supervisor. The proposal should include the overall aims, specific methods to be employed, and most importantly the role that you, the student, will play in the research. Please include specific techniques you will be utilizing in the lab. This description should not exceed one page with double-spaced type. If you have questions about the proposal, please email Nikki Clarkson.

If you have any questions about how to fill out the online forms, please email

Determining work load

  • During a 16 week semester, one credit hour of MCB 290 is earned for each 5 hours per week spent in the lab. (For 8 week summer sessions, 1 hour of credit is earned for each 10 hours per week spent in the lab.)
  • Although a limit of 10 credit hours of MCB 290 can be applied toward the 120 hours needed for graduation, you are encouraged to continue your research for as many terms as you wish. All MCB 290 semesters (even beyond 10 credit hours) and their assigned letter grades will appear on your academic record and count in the calculation of your GPA.
  • Make sure that you have a clear understanding of the faculty expectations for credit and how your grade in the course will be assessed.

Applying for a summer research fellowship (SURF)

Recipients of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURFs) receive a financial stipend for the research they conduct in a faculty lab during the summer months. Fellows spend between 20 and 40 hours per week working in a faculty lab for eight to 12 weeks. They also participate in laboratory meetings, journal clubs, and seminars. At the end of their research experience, students write a brief summary to share with faculty and sponsors.

Visit the SURF page to learn more about eligibility and how to apply.


Submitting a senior thesis (optional)

Students choosing to enroll in MCB 492: Senior Thesis must have completed at least two semesters of MCB 290 Undergraduate Research for 2 credit hours, or more, each semester under the guidance of the same professor. MCB 492 is taken during your last semester before graduation.

Eligible students may choose to submit a thesis for a grade and/or for high or highest distinction consideration. Discuss with your faculty advisor what is advisable and possible for your project. If you plan to submit a thesis for a grade only, it will be due on the last day of class in your final semester on campus.

For further instructions regarding a senior thesis please reference this document, Guidelines for Senior Thesis Format.

Submitting a thesis for a grade in MCB 492:
To earn a grade in MCB 492, a student must:

  • Complete two semesters of MCB 290 for 2 credit hours or more each semester, in the same lab. Participation in an MCB-sponsored Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship can be substituted for one semester of MCB 290.
  • Register for MCB 492, in your final semester, for 3 credit hours or more.
  • Submit a written thesis, in PDF format according to these guidelines, online by the last day of classes during the semester you will be graduating. Note: the thesis must be submitted in PDF format. No other formats will be accepted.
  • Obtain a letter of support from your Principal Investigator (faculty advisor).

See Graduation with Distinction for further information on deadlines and earning Distinction in MCB.

For questions regarding Senior Thesis or Graduation with Distinction please call 217-333-6774 or email

MCB Undergraduate Research Symposium


The School of Molecular & Cellular Biology is pleased to celebrate outstanding research conducted by our undergraduate students with an annual fall symposium.

Video file
Student researcher, veterans work together to study brain health

Hear from our student researchers


Undergraduate student researcher Elizabeth Spurlock reflects on her experience investigating issues related to brain health in populations who have served. She discusses the role of research in understanding the needs of the veteran community and provides resources for supporting veterans locally and nationally. Her research is conducted in collaboration with the Beckman Institute and the Chez Veterans Center.


Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research

The Illinois Office of Undergraduate Research offers many valuable resources for MCB students, such as a list of research opportunities, journals that accept undergraduate journal articles, information about the campus Undergraduate Research Symposium, and much more.


Contact us