Are you interested in exploring a career as a researcher in Neurodegeneration? A position as an undergraduate research assistant in the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics (CNET) may be the right fit for you. Previous CNET undergraduate trainees have continued their training in graduate, medical, dental, nursing and physician assistant programs or accepted positions in academic or commercial labs.    

Focus on Neurodegeneration

Principal Investigators in CNET are faculty in the Department of Neurology in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. These faculty perform biomedical and preclinical research funded by the National Institutes of Health and other funding sources, with a focus on determining the mechanisms of cellular dysfunction and loss in neurodegenerative disease https://www.uab.edu/medicine/cnet/labs/cnet-labs . The majority of the labs use a combination of cell culture, animal models, genetic information, and human brain samples to explore the roles for different risk genes and cellular processes in diseases including Parkinson Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Frontotemporal Dementia, Multiple Systems Atrophy, Dystonia, Dyskinesia, and Prion diseases. 

Compensation and Expectations

Undergraduates can gain research experience in these labs by becoming an undergraduate research assistant. Each lab has a different set of tools and techniques that it uses; students are encouraged to reference the previous publications of the Principal Investigator on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/  to get a feel for the type of work performed by that lab.

There are three main ways to be compensated for research activities: course credit, direct pay, or work-study pay. Course credit requires the selection of a course number and registration prior to the start of the semester (for Neuroscience-related majors, see http://catalog.uab.edu/coursedescriptions/nbl/ NBL398). 3 hours of lab time is required per 1 credit hour, with most labs requiring registration for at least 3-5 credit hours per semester. It is expected that students be realistic about the amount of time they will have available for lab and treat the agreed upon schedule as a formal class. Most students claim course credit and aim to complete a senior research thesis. Direct pay positions are much less common, except (occasionally) during the summer months. Work-study positions require prior approval, with specific deadlines and a requirement for new applications each year (see https://www.uab.edu/cost-aid/types-of-aid/work-study-opportunities). Participation as a pure volunteer without credit or other compensation is not recommended because there is little accountability in those positions (for the trainee or advisor); however, this can be considered in special circumstances. These options can be discussed with the Principal Investigator during the interview process.

As with any type of training activity, trainees benefit the most when they contribute a lot of time and effort. Ideal trainees will not only show motivation to become proficient at the main techniques used by a lab but also do substantial additional reading and take part in lab activities (lab meetings, etc.). These activities help trainees to understand the conceptual background for projects and to learn critical thinking skills and principles of experimental design.   

Course Requirements and Training for Undergraduates in Laboratories within the School of Medicine

All undergraduate trainees in CNET labs are required to complete the course PSDO 200: Introduction to Research https://www.coursicle.com/uab/courses/PSDO/200/ . This 1 hour course fulfills the requirement of “Responsible Conduct of Research” training expected for any trainee in labs funded by the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. This course introduces the principles of research ethics and professionalism. Other courses, including those for laboratory safety and rodent care and treatment, are also required at the beginning of the training period and can be discussed with the Principal Investigator. Other information on Responsible Conduct of Research training is available here: https://www.uab.edu/service-research/students-ur/training#ur101.

Opportunities for Career Development and Other Neurodegeneration-related Activities           

The Training Program in Neurodegeneration is for trainees at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, MSTP, master’s, and postdoctoral). This program offers a number of opportunities for networking, career development, leadership, and volunteer activities. Please email Rita Cowell at ritacowell@uabmc.edu to be added to an email list for announcements of events.   

Applying for a Position

If you are interested in applying for a position, fill out the application (link below) the semester before you want to start in a lab. It is recommended that you review the list of faculty and their research interests https://www.uab.edu/medicine/cnet/labs/cnet-labs so that you can suggest a couple labs of interest. Your application will be forwarded to those principal investigators, who will then reach out to schedule an interview, if they have an open position and are interested in meeting you. Please indicate whether you want your application to be forwarded to all the CNET faculty, in the case that the ones you select are not taking students. 

In the application, you will need to provide an updated resume (with your GPA included) and statements of training and career goals. In the statements, students should describe 1) motivation for applying, 2) what they hope to achieve in the lab, and 3) what type of career and/or postgraduate education opportunity they are interested in. 


If you have any questions about this process or undergraduate research opportunities in CNET labs (in general), feel free to contact Rita Cowell at ritacowell@uabmc.edu