Natural Sciences

When people think of research, what generally comes to mind is laboratory staffed by researchers in white coats trying to cure diseases. This is certainly one type of research regularly conducted at Vanderbilt. Students interested in the biological sciences and neuroscience will find incredible opportunities to conduct groundbreaking research in molecular and cell biology, genetics, pharmacology, biological informatics, among many other areas of research. These opportunities are supported mainly through both the College of Arts and Science and the the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a leading national medical research institution. Though Vanderbilt certainly offers substantial opportunities for students interested in this type of research, many other opportunities exist in the natural sciences. For example, students in the Department of Physics regularly conduct astronomical research at Vanderbilt’s own Dyer Observatory, students in Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences routinely take geological measurements and analyze the geological phenomena all around us, and the students in The Department of Chemistry have research opportunities in a wide range of subjects, including but not limited to medicinal chemistry, biochemistry, bioanalytical chemistry, biophysics, materials science, chemical engineering, as well as analytic and theoretical chemistry.

Students interested in research in the natural sciences should consult the Academic Resources page of the College of Arts and Science.

Students in the Natural Sciences also regularly apply to conduct summer research through the VUSRP and apply for outside research opportunities through the Office of Honor Scholarships. Students studying the biological sciences may also be interested in applying for the Vanderbilt Summer Science Academy.

For those seeking to conduct research in the physical sciences, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Make sure you are taking the proper coursework to conduct research in your field of interest. Conducting effective research in the physical sciences requires a strong theoretical grounding in the current literature. Additionally, students should expect to have some coursework in the discipline before beginning a research position or project.
  • Determine what specific field you are interested in. Even within a single department or major, research can vary greatly and come with different sets of procedures, jargon, and literature. For example, in biology, students studying a disease like Alzhiemer’s, which requires a deep knowledge of the brain and how neurons work, may be completely different than studying diabetes, which is related to insulin production in the pancreas. Each of these two areas of research requires an in depth knowledge of the underlying biology, but the specific and advanced knowledge that each of these research groups relies on is vastly different.
  • If you need help finding your interest, talk to professors! They will help you focus your interests and connect you with a research group that matches your interests, even if it isn’t theirs. Also, read some papers that have been published by a research group to see if they interest you. Most professors and almost every research group at Vanderbilt has a website where you can explore the papers they have published and what their current and future projects are.
  • In the natural sciences, beginning research as a younger student has a lot of advantages. Because techniques can be specific to a lab and may take a longer time to learn, faculty members may prefer a student who can go through upwards of a year of training and still be around for a few more years to conduct research.
  • Students are encouraged to conduct independent projects in their junior and senior years in the natural sciences. Students wishing to do this, however, must demonstrate extensive experience and interest in the field.