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Neuroscience 3861 and 3862 Undergraduate Research Guidelines

IMPORTANT: In order to register for research credit, you must begin your contract by the end of the 2nd day of classes. Because the contract and registration process takes time, the link to initiate a research contract will close at the end of the 2nd day of classes and registrations won’t be accepted after that time. Please plan ahead. We encourage students to meet with potential mentors and obtain an agreement on doing research for credit before classes begin.


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 first semester students participate in a learning community by signing up for a discussion section titled “Research Kickstart”. In Research Kickstart, students explore what doing independent research means to them, clarify expectations about what to expect in lab from mentors and for their own work. The community also provides a secondary faculty mentor and the opportunity for students to talk to their peers about their lab experiences and challenges they may face in an independent research environment. During both semesters, 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.


A) 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.

B) All undergraduate students conducting research in Neuroscience must complete the 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, in which case, you can select the Psychological Sciences (VUPSY) course as an alternate.
  • Once online training is completed, you will receive a completion report via email. You will upload this certificate to the REDCap survey when initiating your research contract. You will not need to re-upload the report when registering for NSC 3862.

C) All students must take an online quiz that covers the requirements and guidelines of the research courses. The Program Office will automatically be notified once you have passed the quiz; there is no action needed on your end.

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 and 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.
  • Research Contract: Initiate research proposal HERE
    • Complete the above REDCap survey in its entirety. This will serve as your research contract. Once submitted, the information will require two approvals: first by your mentor and second by our Director of Independent Studies (DIS). If approved by both parties, the information will be routed to the Program Office for registration. You will be notified after each step is completed and will also be notified once enrolled.
    • Inform your mentor that a REDCap link will be sent to their email and will require action.

A new contract is required for each semester you register and you will not be able to register yourself. If after following all guidelines you still have questions, contact the Program Office.

IMPORTANT: In order to register for research credit, you must begin your contract by the end of the 2nd day of classes. Because the contract and registration process takes time, the link to initiate a research contract will close at the end of the 2nd day of classes and registrations won’t be accepted after that time. Please plan ahead. We encourage students to meet with potential mentors and obtain an agreement on doing research for credit before classes begin.

Course Structure and Requirements

NSC 3861: In NSC 3861 (3 credit hours), students are expected to spend 8-10 hours per week in laboratory or library work, plus attend and participate in their discussion section.

At the end of the semester, students will write a 300-800 word 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 in conjunction with the course coordinator.

NSC 3862: In NSC 3862 (3 credit hours), students are expected to spend 12-15 hours per week in the laboratory or library work (18-20 hours per week during the summer session). There is no discussion section tied to 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 references do not have to fit into the page limit.

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.


Abstracts (3861) and papers (3862) are due on the last day of class. There will be a deduction of 1 letter grade on papers received after the deadline. Copies should be submitted to the program through Brightspace 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. In NSC 3861, one third of your grade will be determined by your participation in the discussion section; two thirds will be dependent on your performance in the laboratory and abstract. In NSC 3862, approximately 75% of your grade will depend on your performance in the laboratory and 25% on your final paper. 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.