Undergraduate Research

“Undergraduate (UG) research is an important component of today’s engineering education. Research experiences allow students to explore beyond the classroom by applying concepts towards scientific discovery and the development of products and technologies that impact society.” From the Proceedings of the 122nd American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference and Exposition, Paper ID #13871, June 2015.

Can Biomedical Engineering majors perform research at UTSA?

At UTSA, undergraduate Biomedical Engineering majors need to plan on participating in laboratory research. Undergraduate research is a major component of BME. Biomedical engineers design and build innovative devices (artificial limbs and organs, new-generation imaging machines, advanced prosthetics and more) and improve processes for genomic testing, or making and administering drugs. Their education and experience allow them to bridge the engineering and medical fields and find employment at universities, industry, hospitals, research facilities, in academia, and government agencies. At UTSA, BME undergraduates can perform research and can apply as many as 6 SCHs toward the degree requirements. The research involvement provides real-world experiences for students, exceptional contact with a UTSA Faculty mentor, and opens the door for employment following graduation. You should have a careful look at each faculty member’s research on our website to get an idea of the types of research projects that are available. Some broad areas of research in Biomedical Engineering are shown below and most BME’s graduate with some research experience.

How early can I begin a laboratory research experience?

BME undergraduates can begin working in a lab early, but you should plan on earning the SCHs in your third or fourth year. Many Faculty members do not require that you have completed advanced courses to begin work in their labs. They know that you will learn as you go. They will provide you with reading assignments to help you get up and running quickly. When you enter a lab, you will probably first learn basic techniques and work on a project as part of a team overseen by an MS or PhD student. You will learn how to read scientific papers that form the foundations of your work. You will attend lab meetings and be encouraged to ask questions and contribute to intellectual discussions about your work and that of and others on the team. And, once you have demonstrated commitment and competence, you may be given a project of your own!

How long should I volunteer?

Working in a lab requires an investment of time on the part of both the undergraduate, and the professor’s lab group. Most faculty mentors desire at least two semesters of commitment to a project-- it takes much time and effort to train a new person and so many faculty are reluctant to take on a novice researcher for only one semester! To get anything accomplished in the lab, you should also be prepared to put in at least 10 – 15 hours weekly, and full-time in the summer. You should ask individual faculty members of their expectations before joining a lab.

Benefits of Extended Laboratory Work:

Undergraduate research can be a life-changing experience because it dramatically deepens your understanding of biomedical engineering theory and practice. For many students, this is a transformative experience, leading to clarification of professional goals and increased academic motivation. If you fully engage with the laboratory and project, you may collect data that leads to your inclusion in the authorship of a scientific paper. The undergraduate research experience can also open the door to graduate and professional degrees (such as medical or dental school), since these become more likely with the strong recommendation from a research mentor. The Honors research courses also open the door for you to earn College of Engineering Honors or Highest Honors from the Honors College.

More on Undergraduate Research

Helpful information about undergraduate research, including how to approach (and impress!) a faculty member, available funded training programs, Honors College and COE Honors, and extramural research internships can be found on the website for the UTSA Office of Undergraduate Research.