Why Choose Undergraduate Research?

lab chemicals

The importance of experiential learning

As a tier-one research university, UC Davis offers an overwhelming amount of undergraduate research opportunities.

At UC Davis, undergraduates have access to experiential learning opportunities that are only available to graduate students at some other universities. With top global rankings in animal and plant sciences, ecology and evolution, and many other programs, UC Davis is an ideal location to conduct undergraduate research with some of the world’s top scientists.

Whether you’re just starting out or are in the midst of your collegiate journey, it’s always a good idea to consider participating in undergraduate research. With 132 faculty and more than 120 research labs spread across campus, the College of Biological Sciences provides undergraduate students with one of a kind research experiences, from studying ibuprofen’s effects on heart cells to investigating the effect of environmental toxins on pigeons and mosquitofish, and much, much more.

Undergraduate research Alec Avey
Neurobiology, physiology and behavior undergraduate Alec Avey works in Professor Keith Baar’s Functional Molecular Biology Lab testing the durability of ligaments engineered from human ACL cells. David Slipher/UC Davis

“Undergrads aren’t just here to wash dishes or do some assays for grad students,” said Alec Avey, a neurobiology, physiology and behavior major who researches ways to engineer injury-resistant ligaments in Professor Keith Baar’s Functional Molecular Biology Lab. “We’re actually learning how to do research and learning how to understand research.” 

Participating in research as an undergraduate can help present the concepts you learned in the classroom in a new light, as well as help you develop real-world life sciences research skills. These experiences can give you a leg up on the competition when beginning your professional career, and conducting undergraduate is an essential prerequisite if you’re considering graduate education.

“Moderate to top-quality graduate programs require research experience,” said College of Biological Sciences Dean Mark Winey. “You just won’t get in without it because you need to know what the culture and function of a lab is like and being part of a research group, because in graduate school, research becomes the primary way you learn and develop your scholarship—it’s no longer in the classroom.”

There’s a lot to be said about the benefits of experiential learning. According to The Princeton Review, these experiences help students find their passion, improve their communication skills and encourage them to take chances.  

students explore a tide pool
Marine and Coastal Sciences undergraduates explore the tide pools at the Bodega Marine Laboratory. David Slipher/UC Davis

Where can you conduct research?

While a majority of biology-specific labs are housed within the College of Biological Sciences, there are also opportunities to get involved with the college’s affiliated centers and programs. These include the following, and many more:


Life sciences research opportunities for undergraduates can also be found in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Letters and Science as well as the School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine and many other centers and research programs. UC Davis emphasizes interdisciplinary research, with the goal of discovery through collaboration.  

Even if a research interest lies outside of your major, or the research lab you’d like to work in isn’t within the College of Biological Sciences, broadening your horizons and exploring research opportunities that pique your interest is a valuable undertaking. Considering that the life sciences are extremely interdisciplinary, growing your knowledge in one area can impact your understanding in others.

Additionally, you may be able to conduct field research in the picturesque University of California’s Natural Reserve System. UC Davis-associated reserves include the Bodega Marine Reserve, the Jepson Prairies Reserve, the McLaughlin Natural Reserve, the Quail Ridge Reserve and the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.   

Emily Meyers and seagrass research
At the Bodega Marine Lab, Emily Meyers studied the biodiversity of invertebrates in seagrass beds, cataloging the different species she found to see if the presence of algae affected these marine communities. David Slipher/UC Davis

Evolution, ecology and biodiversity major Emily Meyers had the opportunity to conduct summer research at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, where she studied the invertebrates that live in seagrass beds. According to Meyers, students interested in ecology and marine sciences should look into the summer sessions offered by the facility.    

“It’s a lot more fluid and a lot easier to get your work done when you’re living out at the site,” she said. “Undergraduate research has deepened my understanding of science as a whole in my field, and I think it’s also provided a great opportunity to learn more in a really meaningful way.”

How this blog will help you

This blog series will provide step by step information to help you find an undergraduate research position that’s suitable for you. It will help answer basic questions you may have about life sciences research, exploring topics such as:

  • What does life sciences research look like?
  • What kind of research environments are there at UC Davis?
  • How do you identify your research passion?
  • What’s the best way to approach a faculty member?

You’ll find answers to these questions and much more in this series.

As a UC Davis student, you have the amazing opportunity to work alongside some of the top life sciences researchers in the world. And for them to conduct their research, they depend on the help of undergrads like you. So dive in and explore the path to undergraduate research.

Be sure to read the next post in our series: What does undergraduate research look like?

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