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Independent Study and Research/Thesis

Undergraduate Research Assistantship Program (URAP)

What is it?

URAP is a mechanism for organizing the research opportunities in the department of biology and other participating departments.

Why get involved?

Although these positions are typically unpaid you will receive valuable laboratory and field experience, detailed and personalized letters of recommendation, opportunities to present at scientific meetings, and potentially authorship on publications all of which are important for your next career choice whether you plan to get a job, or go on to graduate school or medical school.

Currently Available Opportunities:


Title: Research Opportunity in Cell Biology

Research in the Ables Lab seeks to understand the fundamental principles by which cell fate and function are instructed and maintained. In particular, we focus on the role of nuclear hormone receptors in the establishment of cell fate. Nuclear hormone receptors are a broad class of physiologically-regulated transcription factors that are critical for reproduction, metabolism, and stem cell function. Using the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) ovary as a model tissue system, we combine genetic loss-of-function methods and in vivo techniques for visualizing cells in their microenvironment to test how nuclear hormone receptors control cell fate and function. Current projects in the lab include:

1. Elucidating the roles of nuclear hormone receptors in stem cell establishment and self-renewal.
2. Identification and characterization of novel nuclear hormone receptor target genes in the control of stem cell fate and function.
3. Understanding the role of nuclear hormone receptors in germ cell differentiation and survival.

The Ables Lab includes 3-4 undergraduate team members at any given time. Students receive one-on-one training in basic lab skills (such as pipetting and preparation of solutions), fly husbandry and stock maintenance, microscopy, and molecular techniques. Students also participate in weekly lab meetings, where they discuss current scientific literature and present their research findings. Undergraduates with significant contributions to a research project are included as co-authors on publications and travel to regional and national scientific meetings.

Prospective students should send a CV/resume and a short statement of career interests to ablese@ecu.edu to receive an application and reserve a spot on the waiting list. Successful applicants have excellent time management skills, are highly organized, work well independently and as part of a team, and are motivated to learn and broaden their horizons. Undergraduates typically begin in either fall or early summer, and most commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week in lab. Students must have successfully completed BIOL 1100 and BIOL 2300 before beginning in the lab; students at all levels of their undergraduate career are encouraged to apply. 

Undergraduate Assistants Needed for Fisheries Field and Lab Work

The Asch lab is seeking two or more highly motivated students to assist in larval fish and zooplankton collections and identification. The successful applicants will assist with a Master’s thesis examining the influence on climate change and climate variability on the seasonal timing of the arrival of fish larvae to Beaufort Inlet, NC. Applicants will be expected to work 5-10 hours/week in the lab throughout the semester, and will have the opportunity to assist in weekly nighttime collections of fish larvae and zooplankton from Beaufort Inlet.
Successful applicants will gain field experience with larval fish collection techniques zooplankton sampling, and water quality data collection. They will also gain lab experience identifying larval fish using a stereomicroscope, sorting and measuring the length and condition of identified larval fish, and preparing materials for weekly fieldwork. Applicants also have the potential to earn course credit and letters of recommendation when applying for future opportunities.
Participation in fieldwork will require that the research assistant receive training in ECU animal use protocols. Though work in the lab will follow a routine schedule determined together by the applicant and his/her supervisor, weekly trips to the field will last all night, require applicants to work in wet and occasionally uncomfortable conditions, and will occur at different times and days each week. Applicants will not be expected to assist with every field trip throughout the semester, but preference will be given to those can assist as frequently as possible.
The selected research assistant(s) will be expected to actively participate in monthly lab meetings. Research assistants may be occasionally asked to help with other lab activities and projects on an as needed basis. Since we anticipate that our lab will have several continuing and future opportunities to conduct undergraduate research, preference will be given to applicants interested in continuing to work in our lab in subsequent semesters.
Selection Criteria: Please send: (1) a CV or resume; (2) a one-page cover letter describing your interest in this position, any relevant previous experience, and your long-term career goals, and; (3) an unofficial transcript. These materials should be sent to both Dr. Rebecca Asch (aschr16@ecu.edu) and Chris Thaxton (thaxtonw12@students.ecu.edu). Applications will be reviewed as they are received, but preference will be given to applications received before September 22. 

Research Project: Evolutionary Relationships of Assassin Flies

Assassin flies are a diverse family of venomous, predatory insects. This project seeks to describe the biodiversity and elucidate the evolutionary relationships of this understudied group.
Depending on their individual skills/interests, students will have the opportunity to learn basic entomology, museum curation, taxonomy, specimen photography, phylogenetic analysis, database management, bioinformatics, field-based collecting, and molecular techniques.
Interested students should email Chris Cohen at cohench15@students.ecu.edu and attach their CV and a brief statement describing their research interests and career goals. Foreign language fluency is desired (especially Russian or German) but not required.

Venom Biology of ground-hunting spiders

I am currently looking for motivated undergraduate students to assist with research involving the molecular evolution of spider venom proteins. I work with a fascinating group of ground-hunting spiders in the Ctenidae family that lives in the southeastern U.S. These spiders are themselves are not toxic to humans, but they are close relatives to the highly toxic Brazilian Armed Spider (Phoneutria nigriventer). The goal of my research is to describe the venom composition as well as basic venom biology and venom biogeography of these spiders. Students involved in this research will have an opportunity to gain experience with interdisciplinary techniques ranging from bioinformatics analysis, venom extraction, transcriptomics using Next Generation Sequencing, proteomics using Mass Spectrometry, toxicity assays, behavioral experiments, phylogenetics, as well as arachnological sampling techniques.

Interested students are encouraged to contact Jeff Cole with a brief statement of intent via email at coleti16@students.ecu.edu

Project: How much iron do iron-oxidizing bacteria really need?

Iron-oxidizing bacteria are widespread in aquatic systems and can contribute to water treatment, biocorrosion, and contaminant mobility in the environment. These organisms require iron for growth, but iron concentrations fluctuate in the environment and it is unclear how they respond to these rapid changes. Can there be too much or too little? The undergraduate student associated with this project will conduct laboratory growth experiments. They will gain experience in microbiological laboratory techniques, spectrophometric assays, and epifluorescence microscopy. There will also be opportunities to assist in field work if interested. Interested students should send a current CV or resume and a brief statement of research interests and professional goals to Dr. Erin Field, fielde14@ecu.edu.

Project: Crabs and ‘Crobes: Microbial Role in Mud Crab-Parasite Interactions

Microbes can play an important role in host-parasite interactions, but little is known about how they may affect the relationship between mud crabs and the parasites that infect them. The undergraduate student associated with this project will aid in laboratory experiments and have the opportunity to conduct some field work. They will gain experience in basic microbiological laboratory techniques, antibiotic testing methods, DNA extraction and PCR amplification, microbial community sequencing, and mud crab housing in the lab. This project is in collaboration with the Blakeslee Lab and the student will be expected to work closely with this lab. Interested students should send a current CV or resume and a brief statement of research interests and professional goals to Dr. Erin Field, fielde14@ecu.edu. 

Title: Conservation of plants and their pollinators

Do you eat plants? Do you eat anything that eats plants? Of course you do and bees help pollinate more than 75% of our flowering plants and crops. Yet, there is much to know about plant-insect interactions.
We ask 1) what threats are responsible for rare plant loss as well as pollinator decline? and 2) what basic knowledge do we need for rare plants and also for their pollinators to conserve them? We use studies involving work in the field, greenhouse and environmental chambers with techniques in ecology (seed germination, plant growth response, electron microscopy, insect collection and preservation). Of recent interest is how establishment of solar panel farms in eastern NC and elsewhere might use native plants in their landscaping, instead of turf grass and gravel, to enhance insect habitat and resources, particularly of bees and butterflies. Students initially volunteer time in the lab and field; independent projects as well as academic credit are possible after training and acceptance, for eventual participation of at least ~10 hr/wk. Please email your resume, your long-term goals and a brief statement of what you hope to gain from a research experience to Dr. Claudia Jolls at jollsc@ecu.edu.

 Study of the Evolution of Three-spined Stickleback:

Our lab investigates stickleback color evolution through natural and sexual selection.  Our work focuses on reproductive isolation, with emphasis on function of throat and spine coloration as well as the evolution of female display traits.
Student assistants would begin by feeding fish 1-2 times per week and assisting with enclosure up keep.  Those interested in research would assist graduate students on current projects.  For example; color analysis, histology, and parasite dissections.  All of these opportunities are great additions for resumes and lab work is a must for those interested in graduate school. 
Please send a current CV/resume and a statement concerning why you are interested in working in the lab, to Tyler Bowling and Chris Anderson at  bowlingt16@students.ecu.edu and andersonchr15@students.ecu.edu
Currently we are seeking motivated freshman, sophomore or junior undergrad researchers who are interested in Toxicology research using the C. elegans model. Currently there are three projects available: 1) Impacts of metal oxide nanoparticles on neurological behaviors and its underlying molecular mechanism; 2) The C. elegans model of environmental obesogens, with a focus on fatty acid metabolism and longevity 3) Development of a RNA-mediated strategy in agricultural pest control.

Students will be trained in and gain experience with lab techniques including nematode culture and maintenance, advanced microscopy and phenotyping, histological assays, neurological behavioral assays, and molecular techniques including RNAi, quantitative real-time PCR, DNA sequencing, etc.

After one-semester training, students will have the opportunity to work independently on their own project. Students will also have opportunities to present research findings at local or national conferences, or be primary or co-author of manuscript(s), depending on their role and contribution to the project. Dr. Pan will also provide letter of recommendation and guidance for students to compete for various regional and national awards.

If interested, students should make an appointment with Dr. Pan at panx@ecu.edu for discussion. Visit Dr. Pan’s webpage for details: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/biology/pan_xiaoping.cfm
Currently we are seeking motivated freshman, sophomore or junior undergrad researchers who are interested in Toxicology research using the C. elegans model. Currently there are three projects available: 1) Impacts of metal oxide nanoparticles on neurological behaviors and its underlying molecular mechanism; 2) The C. elegans model of environmental obesogens, with a focus on fatty acid metabolism and longevity 3) Development of a RNA-mediated strategy in agricultural pest control.

Students will be trained in and gain experience with lab techniques including nematode culture and maintenance, advanced microscopy and phenotyping, histological assays, neurological behavioral assays, and molecular techniques including RNAi, quantitative real-time PCR, DNA sequencing, etc.

After one-semester training, students will have the opportunity to work independently on their own project. Students will also have opportunities to present research findings at local or national conferences, or be primary or co-author of manuscript(s), depending on their role and contribution to the project. Dr. Pan will also provide letter of recommendation and guidance for students to compete for various regional and national awards.

If interested, students should make an appointment with Dr. Pan at panx@ecu.edu for discussion. Visit Dr. Pan’s webpage for details: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/biology/pan_xiaoping.cfm

Title: Color pattern development and evolution in poison frogs.

The student will work in a live animal room with captive frogs in terraria. Duties will include various aspects of animal husbandry including raising live food (Drosophila), feeding and misting terraria, disassembling and setting up terraria for frogs, checking pools for breeding activity, removing tadpoles from small pools, raising tadpoles, recording changes in the color pattern of tadpoles and metamorphs as development proceeds. Other projects that students may have the opportunity to work on include spatial navigation experiments involving maze navigation and mate preference experiments. Students will gain experience in animal husbandry, and will have the opportunity to participate in ongoing research. I will be glad to write letters of recommendation for students who are diligent and perform well.
Please send a current CV (resume) and a statement concerning why you are interested in working in the lab, what you hope to gain from the experience, and how you expect this to impact your long-term goals to the following email address: summersk@ecu.edu.

Office of Undergraduate Research Fall 2017
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