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 Types of opportunities for Genetics Majors

  • Freshman Learning Community:  The Secret of Life Learning Community is open to all freshmen and early transfer students in the majors of Genetics or BCBio.  Upperclassmen can apply to be peer mentors with the Learning Community.  These are excellent leadership positions.   We will be hiring two new peer mentors for 2020-21 who will work with returning peer mentors Emily Sarvis and Melissa Draves.

  • Applications are now open for two new peer mentors.  Please review the job description, fill out your application and submit it to Alison Esser before Monday, February 22nd, 2021. 


The Genetics Club is a student organization open to all students with an interest in Genetics.  It typically meets twice monthly during the school year.  Current undergraduates, graduates, recent alumni, faculty and post-docs are invited to give presentations on their research, internship experiences, and careers.  Various fund-raisers and social events are also planned throughout the school year.  Please contact Genetics Club President Eli Harvey ( for the current schedule.  

Freshman Research Initiative

Students often begin to work in research labs as early as the second semester of the freshmen year.  Overall, about 80% of graduates obtain experience during their undergraduate career.  These are some of the paths to obtaining research experience:

  • Freshman Honors students have the opportunity to participate in research for HON 290 credit.  Many students continue to work in the lab in which they did their HON 290 coursework.  Honors students are required to complete a capstone project before graduation.
  • Some scholarships such as the Dean's Leadership Scholarship offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences require a research component.
  • Any interested Genetics student may sign up for BIOL 423L (Developmental Biology Lab) taught in Spring semesters.  This lab is overseen by Dr. Jeff Essner and involves gene-editing in zebrafish using the CRISPR-Cas9 system.  Students learn some bioinformatics, PCR, gel electrophoresis, DNA and RNA isolation, fluorescence microscopy and more.  The lab gives 1 credit in the Advanced Science area (6 credit area).  Taken as a freshman, it teaches skills that can be very useful in obtaining further research opportunities both on and off campus.
  • Students may compete for on-campus or off-campus internships during the summer months. 

Students are encouraged to ask their faculty advisors and instructors about openings in their laboratories. 

Students may earn GEN 499 or GEN 499H credit for research work; typically 1 credit hour is awarded for 3 hours of lab work per week. Students generally earn 1-3 credits per semester.  These may be used in the Advanced Science Electives area. The contract for GEN 499 or 499H should be completed by the student and research mentor and returned to Lois Girton in 143 Bessey Hall.


  • Teaching Opportunities 

Students have many opportunities to gain teaching experience.  Undergraduate teaching assistants facilitate student-centered learning activities in large lecture classes such as BIOL 212 and work with graduate teaching assistants in BIOL 211L, 212L, and GEN 313L.  Students are typically awarded course credit, GEN 492, for this work.  Student who have performed well in coursework are sought after by departments to be Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leaders and Tutors. Genetics students often choose to be SI leaders for CHEM courses as a great way to review material before taking the MCAT exam.  SI Leaders and Tutors are paid positions.  Peer mentors also hold study sessions and reviews for the freshmen students.

  • Leadership Opportunities

Iowa State University has over 600 student organizations, all looking for participants and officers.  Students also hold leadership positions in the Department of Residence, as Ambassadors for Colleges, as Cyclone Aides, and as Destination Iowa State Leaders. 

ISU on the Mediterranean

There are numerous possibilities for study abroad. Genetics majors who plan to take a semester or entire year studying abroad should plan ahead and work carefully with their academic advisor to be sure that courses will meet requirements here.  There are six semesters of "sequenced" course work (courses requiring prerequisites) in both the Biology/Genetics and the Chemistry/Biochemistry area so it is possible to graduate in eight semesters in which two do not contribute to those sequenced courses.  However, the most popular study abroad program with Genetics students is the ISU on the Mediterranean: Summer in Valencia, Spain.  Students typically earn 3 research credits and 3 credits of Spanish language or culture.