396 Research Course

I just did a 396 research course in the Winter 2017 semester. Before I registered for it, I went to talk to my departmental advisor to ask for more information. She said it was a great way to do research in a professor’s lab and have it count toward your degree. What was also really nice was that you do not have to a 396 in your own department. You could be in Anatomy and Cell Biology and do a 396 from the biology department or physiology department or other departments.

The hardest part is to find a professor who will take you. There is a page on McGill for 396 projects which are posted for students to apply. Those are not the only one! I thought those were the only one at the beginning until I read on Reddit that you could just email as many professors as you can and see who takes you. The marking scheme is usually 50% lab performance and 50% final report or 50% lab performance, 40% final report, 10% presentation. Everything is marked directly by the professor whose lab you are working in.

Usually my email will be like this:

Dear [Professor’s name],

The first paragraph I would introduce myself with my name, year, what major I am studying and express interest in their research.

The second paragraph I would talk about one of their papers I read and talk about what stood out to me.

The third paragraph I would ask in the most polite way possible if I could do a 396 research course with this professor. I would also note that my CV and transcript are attached.

Thank you very much for your time,

[Your name]

It is important after you have found a professor to talk clearly about the time commitment. McGill University expects that for each credit, you personally study 2 hours. For a 396 research course, it is 3 credits (3 hours of class time + 6 hours of personal self study) which totals 9 hours every week. Since this is research, the hours will not be black and white. Sometimes experiments will run over time, something will go wrong, or you have to go back into the lab to do extra experiments. When I talked to my professor, he expected 10-15 hours every week. We also talked about my previous lab experience which I didn’t have much of.

The professor started me off with basic experiments in this lab and then as the semester progressed, I began to ran more complex experiments. I average around 10-12 hours every week. Sometimes though, I had to do 2 extra hours every week as experiments would not be completed or my cell culture would not grow. I loved the experience as I learned a lot of lab techniques such as centrifugation, cell culturing, making media, SDS page gel, freezing grids (electron microscopy), and electron microscopy. I worked closely with a post doc in the lab who was very patient and understanding. I started the final report one month before it was due and continued writing and revising. As long as you put in your best effort, a high grade is not hard to attain.

I received a lot of guidance from the post doc in the lab. When it came time for the presentation, it was really easy to make the presentation. I basically made a condensed version of the report. Since I knew the contents of my project inside and out, I did not have to rehearse that much for the presentation! After I finished my presentation, I received feedback from my professor. I am still in this lab and will continue until I graduate. All in all, it was a great opportunity to be exposed to research while earning credit. I would highly recommend doing a 396 course.

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