Skip to main content

Neuroscience 3861 and 3862 Undergraduate Research Guidelines

Objective

The purpose of the Undergraduate Research course is to provide the student with an introduction to the intellectual and technical aspects of research in neuroscience. The student works in the laboratory of a member of the neuroscience faculty at Vanderbilt and, through both reading and hands-on laboratory experience, will learn how the research scientist identifies and attempts to solve important problems in understanding how the nervous system works.

Starting Fall 2017: All undergraduate students conducting research in Neuroscience have to complete Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training online.

Click here for training requirements and information. When taking the online RCR training, enroll in the Bio/Physical Sciences (VUBPS) course – unless you are working in Wilson Hall with human subjects ONLY, then select Psychological Sciences (VUPSY) course.

Once online training is completed, you will receive a completion report via email. You may either forward that email to the Program Office, or there will be a link that allows you to share the report. Confirmation has to be received by the Program Office before you can be registered for the research course.

Pre-requisites

Completion of either NSC 2201 or NSC 3860 is required as a pre-requisite for NSC 3861.  Completion of NSC 3861 is required as a pre-requisite for NSC 3862.

Selecting a Research Mentor

In order to register for NSC 3861 or NSC 3862, a student must obtain an appropriate faculty sponsor and under his/her guidance develop a plan of study for the semester. The plan need not be exceptionally detailed, but should identify the primary goals that the sponsor and student hope to achieve during the semester.

To find a faculty sponsor, look first at the research opportunities available. You will find a short research description of the faculty that are currently approved to sponsor students for NSC 3861 and NSC 3862. If you are interested in working with a faculty member that is not already approved to mentor students but conducts Neuroscience research, you must first get permission from the Director of Independent Studies. The faculty member must then agree that they are willing to direct a student’s research for these courses.  It is left to your initiative to determine what area of research you wish to pursue. Once you have identified labs that you are interested in you should learn about the lab by reading about their research by exploring their webpage and/or by reading some the research papers they have produced. Email the scientists whose research interests you.  In your email you should provide some background about yourself (list the relevant course work you have had, describe any research experience, and some mentors will also want to know your GPA in science courses), explain why you are interested in her/his research/working in that lab and ask whether you could meet with her/him about undertaking the research course in her/his lab. We suggest that you contact more than one lab since some researchers will tell you that they already have several students and cannot take any more.

Application/Registration

  • Read the “course structure and requirements” (below)
  • Select a research mentor and decide on a project by agreement with a potential research mentor. A specific research proposal will be required.
  • Download and complete the NSC-3861 or NSC-3862 contract. The application includes a written research proposal.
  • E-mail the completed application form to your research mentor. Paper forms will not be accepted. Include a short text message to the effect that the contract is attached. A new contract is required for each semester you register.
  • Your research mentor should then forward the entire e-mail, including the attachment, to the Program Office  and then the student will be registered. You will not be able to register yourself. Confirmation of registration will be sent to both the student and the mentor by email.  This process assures the department that the research mentor has seen and approved the proposal.

If after following all these guidelines you still have questions, contact the Program Office.

**In order to be registered on time, contracts MUST be emailed to Program Office no later than  24 hours before the end of the Open Enrollment period. ***

Course structure and requirements

Once a student has been admitted to NSC 3861 or NSC 3862 his or her primary interactions during the semester will be with the faculty sponsor and members of the sponsor’s laboratory. Students working on summer research are required to spend 12-15 hours/week in the lab for the full summer session.

NSC 3861: At the end of the semester, students will write a maximum two-page abstract describing their research accomplishments for the semester and their plans for future research (e.g., in NSC 3862) as well as a specific section regarding the neuroscience component. This abstract will be graded by their faculty mentor, and will be part of the student’s final grade.

NSC 3862: All students are required to write a final paper that summarizes the research that was carried out during the NSC 3861 and NSC 3862 research experience. The paper should be modeled after a typical scientific journal article and include an Introduction/Background, Methods, Results, and Discussion sections. The document should be 10-15 double spaced pages with 1-inch margins, and 12pt Times or equivalently clear font. Figures and tables should be embedded within the document and all figures must be accompanied by figure legends. A list of cited references should be included at the end of the paper.

The expectation is that the student will have read previous papers on the topic of their research and understand the reasoning that led to their research effort. They should also express an understanding of the hypotheses and methods on which their lab efforts were based. In all, students should be able to demonstrate (a) an understanding of fundamental principles and concepts of neuroscience, (b) an ability to think critically, (c) an ability to organize and communicate conceptual and factual information, and (d) a depth of knowledge in the area of the research project. The introduction to the paper should include a discussion of the neuroscience background and significance of the work. If the results warrant statistical treatment, the analytic methods should be included or referenced – wherever appropriate, it is expected to provide the statistical test (such as T-value, F-value, R-value); if a statistical test cannot be provided, include a section explaining what the appropriate test would be and why it was not performed (for instance, the sample size was too small). The discussion should be focused narrowly on the results and their interpretation. Please contact the Program Office  if you have questions about the organization and style of the paper. Note: Before submitting any paper to an “undergraduate research journal” it is absolutely critical that you get permission from your research adviser even if the journal does not require it.

Grades

Abstracts (3861) and papers (3862) are due on the last day of class. There will be a deduction of 1 letter grade for papers received after the deadline. Copies should be sent to the Program Office  and to the student’s faculty mentor. The abstract/paper is to be graded by the faculty mentor who should submit a recommendation for a final grade to the Program Office within one week of the due date. Approximately 75% of your grade will depend on your performance in the laboratory. Please download and read over the Guidelines given to faculty for evaluating your performance – it should help you understand what is expected and the basis for grading.