Undergraduate Study
Research Opportunities

There are many research options for undergraduate biomedical engineering students, both inside and outside the department. The McCormick undergraduate research section contains a wealth of information about this topic including:

  • How to get started in research
  • Open research positions
  • Peer advising
  • Research grants

Frequently Asked Questions

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Why should I do research?

Becoming involved in research while you are an undergraduate has several advantages.

  • It allows you to put into practice some of what you learn in what is often the more passive format of regular courses.
  • It allows you to become deeply engaged in a problem of current interest in your field and work on it over an extended time.
  • It gives you an opportunity for independent learning and creativity, which prepares you for industry and graduate work.
  • It generally allows you to generate a written product and obtain significant feedback from your adviser.

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When should I start research?

Some students may be able to get involved as early as freshman year, helping out in a lab and learning by doing. Sometimes you can informally volunteer, and sometimes you can obtain a lab position as a work-study student. Most commonly, students begin to think about doing research for credit junior year.

Your first for-credit research experience in a lab will be taken as a BME 399 and graded on a P/N basis. Subsequent research experiences in the same lab can be taken as BME 499 and graded on the typical letter-grade basis.

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How do I find out about BME-related research?

The BME faculty webpages will give you brief overviews of the research being pursued by BME faculty.

The NU Scholars database can help you find all faculty engaged in a particular research topics at Northwestern, along with links to their publications.

Undergraduate Research Ambassadors for each BME lab can provide interested undergraduate students additional detail about the type of research going on in the lab.  This list is posted in Tech E333.

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What sorts of things will I do in research?

This depends entirely on the lab. Often undergraduates work closely with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, but in BME the labs are generally relatively small, so significant interaction with the faculty member is standard.

Whether you are given a project that is entirely yours will depend on the time you spend in the lab, your capabilities, and the nature of research in a particular lab. Generally you should expect to produce a written document about what you have done.

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How much time will research take?

Research expands to fill the available time. You should discuss the time expectations with your regular academic adviser and your research adviser.

If you are taking BME 399 or 499, it will count as one unit, so you should plan to spend at least as much time on research as you spend on another course. BME 499 may count as a technical elective, and you can always count BME 399 or 499 completions as unrestricted electives.

It is not unusual for a student to accumulate several quarters of 399/499 by the time of graduation. During the summer, research can easily be a full-time job, and this is often the best time to get a lot done.

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Will I get paid for research?

During the academic year, it is uncommon for students to be paid unless they are work-study students. There are, however, Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grants to pay for research expenses. If you are registered for 399 or 499, you cannot be paid. During the summer, payment is more common, but is not universal. You will have to discuss this with your adviser. See the FAQ on paid summer research below.

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How do I sign for a BME 399 or 499?

Please see the Logistics section of BME 399 and 499 Student Guidelines.

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How does this fit into departmental honors?

Juniors with high enough GPAs (>3.5) will be invited to participate in the Honors Program by the Dean's office, and successful completion will allow you to receive your degree with honors.

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Can I have an adviser outside the BME department?

Yes. There are many opportunities in other departments and at the medical school.

If you are doing 399/499 for credit, a BME faculty member must be your formal research adviser, be aware of what you are doing, and sign off on the grade sheet. Please see the BME 399 and 499 Student Guidelines.  

If you go outside the department, you are likely to obtain a valuable research experience, but it may not be very closely related to BME. On the other hand, you will be valued by other labs because you have technical or quantitative expertise. Ideally you may be able to bring engineering to bear in a way that your adviser may not have foreseen.

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What are some options for becoming involved in paid summer research?

Below are some paid summer opportunities for research in Biomedical Engineering

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Who do I contact for further information?

Contact David O'Neill, Director of Experiential Learning of the BME Department.