Student Research Experiences

As an undergraduate student, reaching out to a principal investigator’s research laboratory can seem like a daunting task. Who should you contact? Do you need certain technical skills to be able to meaningfully contribute to the lab? What kind of work should you expect?

This page will serve as a guide to help you discover which research lab group is the best fit for you. We have compiled a list of bioengineering research labs that have expressed interest in recruiting undergraduate research assistants, as well as testimonials from current undergraduate research assistants. Research in the Department of Bioengineering is grouped into 6 technical focus areas:

For more information about research in the Department of Bioengineering, please visit:

How to Join a Research Lab
  • Contact a professor or graduate research assistant directly, either in-person or email.
  • Apply to the various undergraduate research programs offered by the Grainger College of Engineering and Office of Undergraduate Research. These mentorship programs will allow you to become familiar with the research process, develop your research skills, and expose you to what graduate school entails.
    • PURE (fall): A student-run program that connects freshmen and sophomores with graduate students for semester-long engineering research projects.
    • URAP (spring): The Office of Undergraduate Research offers students with little or no research experience the opportunity to work with graduate students and post-doctoral scholars on their research projects. Apply in fall semester.
    • ISUR (2 semesters): Students in the program work closely with graduate student/postdoc mentors and faculty sponsors on research projects throughout the fall and spring semesters
  • Keep an eye out for posts on Canvas, the BIOE Newsletter, and the Office of Undergraduate Research Newsletter for labs seeking undergraduate research assistants.

Tips to Remember when Applying to Research Labs

  • Be friendly and personal.
  • Get to know your professors through office hours. If they know you well, your chances of joining their lab group are much higher. In addition, performing well in their class will help your application.
  • Read some of their publications on their website. Tell them which topics interest you and why you are passionate about them.
  • Become a competitive applicant by familiarizing yourself with the scientific research process and understanding course material. It is important to show that you can manage responsibilities and apply techniques that you have learned in class.
  • Be persistent. PIs are very busy balancing research and academic responsibilities, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t receive a response back.
Research Labs and Principal Investigators by Discipline

Learn more about what research each BIOE lab performs, the ideal qualities of a prospective applicant, and undergraduate research assistant testimonials:

You can also join research labs outside of the BIOE Department. Click below to read testimonies of undergraduate research assistants in non-BIOE departments:

Advice For Working in a Research Lab
  • Maintain communication with your mentor and PI
  • Keep a notebook for record-keeping. This will help with creating your presentations for research lab group meetings, as well as writing reflections about your research experiences.
  • Be curious. Always ask questions so you can better understand the techniques you are using and why you are performing this research. This will allow you to better articulate your research contributions during interviews.
Summer Research Experiences

To bolster your CV and strengthen your skills, it’s recommended to continue performing research year-round. Some UIUC research labs may allow you to continue working on campus over the summer, but you may also want to consider applying to various summer research experiences hosted by other institutions.

Click below to read testimonials from some BIOE students who have participated in summer research experiences:

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) are immersive programs designed to provide undergraduate students with hands-on exposure to research in their field of study. In the context of bioengineering, REUs offer students a unique opportunity to actively engage in meaningful research projects, bridging the gap between theoretical classroom learning and real-world applications.

During an REU, students collaborate with experienced researchers, participate in cutting-edge projects, and gain valuable insights into the research process. This hands-on experience allows them to apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios, fostering critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a deeper understanding of bioengineering concepts.


  1. Practical Application of Knowledge: REUs provide a platform for students to apply theoretical knowledge gained in classrooms to real-world research problems, enhancing their comprehension of bioengineering concepts.
  2. Skill Development: Engaging in research projects allows students to develop essential skills such as experimental design, data analysis, and technical proficiency with state-of-the-art equipment and technologies.
  3. Networking Opportunities: Through REUs, students have the chance to interact with professionals, researchers, and peers in the field. Networking during these programs can lead to mentorship opportunities and exposure to diverse perspectives.
  4. Preparation for Advanced Studies: For those considering graduate studies, REUs provide a solid foundation. Research experience is highly valued in graduate school applications and can set individuals apart in competitive admissions processes.
  5. Career Advancement: The practical experience gained in REUs enhances a student’s marketability in the job sector. Employers value candidates who have demonstrated their ability to apply knowledge in a research setting.


  1. Start Early: Begin exploring REU opportunities early in your academic journey. Some programs have application deadlines well in advance, and early preparation allows for thorough research and preparation.
  2. Define Your Interests: Clearly define your research interests within bioengineering. This will help you identify programs that align with your academic and career goals.
  3. Research Programs Thoroughly: Explore the specific research areas, faculty profiles, and facilities offered by each program. Look for a good fit that aligns with your interests and aspirations.
  4. Tailor Your Application: Customize your application materials for each program. Highlight how your academic background, skills, and interests align with the specific focus of the REU.
  5. Show Enthusiasm: Clearly express your passion for bioengineering research in your personal statement. Admissions committees appreciate applicants who are genuinely excited about the opportunity.
  6. Secure Strong Recommendations: Request letters of recommendation from professors or mentors who can speak to your academic abilities and potential for success in a research setting.
  7. Highlight Relevant Experience: Emphasize any prior research experience, coursework, or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your preparedness for the specific REU program.
  8. Proofread and Edit: Thoroughly proofread all application materials to ensure clarity, coherence, and correctness. Presenting a well-polished application reflects professionalism and attention to detail.

REUs at Illinois

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF)

A SURF program is intended for students with a strong desire to pursue research careers at the PhD or MD-PhD level. They are offered by various universities and institutions nationwide, but the source of funding may vary. Like REUs, participating in a SURF program will allow you to to actively participate in research and work with faculty and researchers on ongoing research projects.

Here is a list of SURF experiences previous BIOEs have participated in:

The AAMC provides a very comprehensive list of SURF opportunities, but you can find other SURF programs at other institutions not listed here.


Attending a conference is an opportunity for professional growth and networking. Here are some tips about identifying and attending a conference.

Identifying a Conference

Ask your PI about their suggestions given your research, or you may suggest one to your PI. Think ahead—like a year ahead of time if you can. Most funding opportunities are available only if you go to present your research work (not only attend). Abstract submission for the regular conference is likely 3-6 months ahead of the date of the conference. You want to give yourself adequate time to talk to your PI and prepare to submit your abstract. Don’t be intimidated—presenting a poster is a great experience to add to your skillset and to your resume.

The Biomedical Engineering Society Conference is set up for students—many undergraduates and graduate students will be presenting there. However, it covers a variety of topics since biomedical engineering is so broad. People often attend this conference to network with graduate programs and professors before applying to graduate school.

Applying for Funding

There are multiple ways to obtain funding for conference travel:

  • Funding from your PI
  • Office of Undergraduate Research travel grants
  • Honors program travel grants
  • Cancer Center at Illinois funding (specifically to attend the American Association for Cancer Research conference)
  • Conference specific funding

Also, look through the conference website—they may have programs such as the American Association for Cancer Research Undergraduate Scholar Awards. These provide support for attending 2 consecutive conferences.

At the Conference

If possible, find the other undergraduates at the conference, especially if you are traveling alone. There may be an event solely for undergrads—attend this! You can join group chats and find people to navigate the conference and city with.

Do attend talks and talk to people at their posters–that is why you are there! Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, and I have known some undergrads who would skip out to enjoy the city instead of attend the conference. Don’t let people who choose to do this influence you. You are there to learn and grow professionally, and the more you push yourself outside your comfort zone, the better off you will be.

Presenting can be exhausting because you may be talking to people for 2-3 hours. Bring a drink with you like tea to help you make it through! If you are going to take time away from the conference to sight-see, you might want to line it up with your poster presentation (i.e. take a break after you present). Presenting for several hours can be exhausting, and you may not have the bandwidth to get much out of the talks afterwards. If you do have the bandwidth though, get as much out of the conference as you can!

Travel Tips

Think about the temperature outside and inside the conference center. Usually conference centers are designed to avoid overheating people in suits – so for me, that translates to freezing temperatures. I brought an insulated coffee mug so I could make tea in the hotel and bring it with me for hydration and to warm up. At many conferences, people wear a mix of business causal and professional clothing. Think about the people you want to meet at the conference and how you want to present yourself. I advise dressing up over dressing down, but it’s up to you.

Some conference centers have food inside the conference center, but it comes with a price! Think ahead for how you want to spend your money while on the trip. I brought breakfast food with me because it wasn’t provided at my hotel, and it was one way I tried to keep costs down.