University of Minnesota UROP Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program
You could have gone to a 4-year college with smaller classes and professors focused mainly on teaching, rather than research. Why did you choose to go to a major research university, like the University of Minnesota? If you answered "football and beer", read no further.
Alfalfa root nodules containing nitrogen-fixing rhizobia (photo by Alex May).
Maybe you hoped that professors actively involved in research would give more up-to-date lectures. I hope that's true. But to really take advantage of the opportunities at a research university, go to some current-research seminars -- every department has them. Even better, look for an opportunity to do some research yourself, as part of a team of grad students and undergrads working with a professor on a topic that interests you.
Lab-evolved multicellular yeast showing simple division of labor (photo by Will Ratcliff).
At the University of Minnesota, one of the best ways to do this is to design your own research project in collaboration with a professor, and get it funded by the UROP Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. You can request up to $300 for supplies -- many professors will supplement that, if needed -- and $1400 (140 hours at $10 per hour, say) as a stipend, so maybe you can afford to quit that pizza delivery job and get paid for doing research instead.
If this sounds like something you might want to do, you need to PLAN AHEAD. To work on a UROP during Spring 2013, you need to submit your proposal by 8 October 2012. That's only a month after classes start. A month isn't a lot of time to:
* find a Faculty Mentor
* discuss general ideas for a project
* find and read some relevant papers
* write a first draft of your proposal
* revise the proposal at least once based on suggestions from your mentor and then...
* submit it October 8.
So smart undergrads will start contacting possible Faculty Mentors during the summer -- what, you thought we were on vacation all summer?
Examples of possible research topics in the Microbial Population Biology group:
* Experimental evolution of multicellularity
* Evolution of cooperation between legume plants and nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria
* Evolution of aging explored using Daphnia
A lab class that included careful note-taking, calculations with units (e.g., molar concentrations) and some microbiology (sterile technique) would be good preparation for any of these.