Hands On Opportunities

Employers want their employees to bring more than a degree to the workplace. Because there are so many career options, and because today’s job market is so competitive, it is very important to acquire a variety of job-applicable skills while you are working on the degree. These skills may be what sets your resume apart from those of other applicants. There are many ways to gain workplace skills, and some of them are discussed on this page.

It’s never too early to look for experiential opportunities. It is a good idea to explore experiential opportunities, such as internships or campus research, early in your college career. Try and identify your options at least a year or two in advance. By regularly exploring which programs are available throughout the year(s), you will learn about the breadth of possibilities and which opportunities recur annually. Identifying your favorite program(s) well in advance will give you the time to accumulate any additional skills that you may need to be a competitive candidate. Your application materials will need to be carefully prepared and reviewed prior to submission. Application deadlines for isome experiential opportunities can be six to nine months in advance of the start date.


Rachel Emory with an African Elephant, during her internship at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The department has one of the largest and most successful internships in the College of Natural Science. Each summer, over 50 students participate in internships in zoos, public aquariums, environmental education centers, and research labs, for a total of over 700 students since 1998. Students can engage in these internships for course credit. This program has received extraordinarily high praise from both from the institutions that host our interns and from the students themselves, who see this as an excellent stepping-stone toward careers in zoology-related fields.

Independent Study

An independent study often encompasses working on a specific project. This project will provide academic content and/or experience which is not available in any current MSU course. Some of the possibilities for independent study credit include:

  • Intense field or laboratory research
  • A substantial research paper based upon the professional literature on a topic not covered in an MSU course

An independent study differs from an internship placement in these ways:

  • The activities may not be as varied
  • It does not have the same mentoring relationship that an internship does
  • Independent study projects may be completed while taking classes (they do not necessarily involve a full-time immersion)

Brittney Andre, helping to weigh and measure a duck at the MSU Avian Health and Disease Ecology Lab

To receive Zoology Independent Study credit (IBIO 494), you must find an Integrative Biology faculty member who will work with you to define a project that you will be working on that semester and agrees to supervise you. Considerable prior preparation is required on your part. You must identify projects and follow the established application procedure before that semester begins. Once you have been accepted for that project, then you can apply for the relevant course for the upcoming semester. Credit is never awarded after the fact.

If you choose to receive credit, the course is completed at the same time as your work-related experience. Paying for the credits in one of these courses officially places your independent study experience in your academic record.

The number of credits will be determined by you and your Integrative Biology supervisor. It is generally based upon a specific number of hours per week for an entire semester (15 weeks). In most cases, 10 hours per week for a semester is one credit hour. Credits in this course can vary from 1 to 6 credits in a semester.

IBIO 390 Practicum: Careers at the Zoo

Kalee Vannest feeds a giraffe during her practicum at Binder Park Zoo.

Admission by application and interview. Runs May-July, 2 full days/week at Binder Park Zoo. Four credits.

Work alongside staff in every profession at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI: animal care, animal health, education, exhibit design + construction, horticulture, physical plant, business, marketing, guest services, and conservation.

See how individuals and teams support the Binder Park Mission every day.

Apply what you have studied: zoology, fisheries and wildlife, education, animal science, resource conservation, parks/recreation, landscape architecture, comm arts, and marketing.

Realize how your MSU degree can move you toward a career in a zoo or aquarium.

For additional information contact:

Richard Snider, PhD
Michigan State University Zoo & Aquarium Science Program

Study Abroad

Students traveling in Kenya for the BEAM study abroad program.

The department has created and delivered high quality, science-oriented study abroad experiences around the world, including Kenya, the Galapagos and South America, Borneo, and Uganda. We exercise a high degree of oversight to ensure that these courses offer rigorous science content corresponding a 400-level IBIO course on campus.

The MSU Study Abroad Programs currently offers the following study abroad programs for Integrative Biology credit (IBIO 490):

Students may also complete internships abroad.

W.K. Kellogg Biological Station

W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) is Michigan State University's largest off-campus field research station, located 65 miles from main campus between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, which offers:

  • Undergraduate Summer Courses
  • Research Opportunities
  • Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URA)
  • Paid, Professional Internships
  • Scholarships and Fellowships
  • Onsite Housing

Numerous faculty members from the Department of Integrative Biology conduct research at KBS. Learn more about student opportunities at KBS.


Field-Based Courses

Intense field courses can provide experience with a variety of data collection techniques and analysis methods. These skills will be attractive to a future employer. In addition, you will see if a long day collecting field data or analyzing field data it is appealing to you.

Some courses like these are offered at MSU during the Fall or Spring semesters. Others are offered at MSU's W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in the summer.

Additionally, field courses are often offered by university-related field stations in the summers. If the station is accredited, its courses might transfer back to MSU. Check with your advisor to discuss how the courses might be applicable for your degree program.

For example, The School for Field Studies (Salem, Massachusetts) offers environmental field study courses at various locations abroad. Boston University, which accredits SFS programs, approves and assigns course numbers. MSU must make the final decision regarding credit and grade transfer. You should check with:

  1. Contact MSU Office of Admissions to learn if and how SFS course work will transfer
  2. Your advisor to discuss whether SFS courses might be applicable in your degree.

Find On-Campus Research Opportunities

Zach Proux monitoring behavioral assays of tree frogs.

Explore the MSU Undergraduate Research and College of Natural Science Undergrad Research websites. These websites discuss why undergraduate research is important, tips how to find undergraduate research opportunities on campus, etc.

One of the best ways to find a research opportunity is to talk directly to those conducting research. Contact (typically via email) specific faculty members or graduate students who are conducting research that interests you. They don’t have to be in the Integrative Biology Department (e.g., Animal Science, Fisheries & Wildlife, Psychology, etc. Faculty research interests are listed on each department’s website. Be sure to explore the person’s lab website and read some of their published research articles prior to making contact. Make an effort to learn about what they’re researching beforehand. This will set you apart from other students seeking opportunities in their lab.

VENTURE Undergraduate Research Database. This is a classified board for undergraduate research opportunities. Check frequently, especially at the beginning of a semester. Summer opportunities are also listed on VENTURE.

Handshake, a modern career development platform used by MSU, includes a database of full and part-time job opportunities on campus.

Go beyond electronic resources. Many departments have bulletin boards in the halls outside their main offices where jobs in departmental laboratories are posted.

Michigan State University also offers the following research programs (there may be restrictions on who is eligible):

Present and/or Publish your Research

Levi Storks presented his poster at the 2014 Animal Behavior Society Conference.

Summer Research Programs

Summer research programs for undergraduates are 8-10 week programs that typically include a stipend and housing for the duration of the program. Students conduct research projects with faculty, attend seminars and give oral presentations on their research project. These programs provide an opportunity to gain valuable hands-on research experience while simultaneously building your network with researchers, post-docs, graduate students and peers beyond Michigan State University. Opportunities are available in a variety of disciplines.

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

The REU program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is a terrific way to gain research experience (usually in the summer).

Students accepted to one of these programs work in a variety of specific research projects at host institutions around the country. About ten undergraduates are associated with each REU Site, and each student is associated with a specific research project.

There are REU sites in Michigan, such as at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station (not applicable to MSU students) or through Central Michigan University, but there are also many sites across the country at colleges and universities. Many university-based field stations offer REU opportunities too.

Housing and a stipend are included for these programs, so this is a great way to investigate another part of the country. These opportunities usually last 10 to 12 weeks.

University-Associated Field Stations

Field stations are associated with universities and are terrific places to obtain research experience in the summers or the academic year.

  • Some stations offer field-based courses which might transfer back to MSU.
  • Many of these stations offer REU opportunities.
  • Sometimes stations post summer jobs for students to collect and analyze field data.

Visit the Organization of Biological Field Stations for a complete list of biological field stations.

Find Other Off-Campus Research Opportunities

Student Opportunities in Government Settings

Experience from Extracurricular Activities

If you do not have any relevant experience yet, or you want to gain new skills or enhance existing skills, volunteer activities are a terrific way to do this. A few ways to volunteer include:

  • Holding an office (or other extensive involvement) in a student club or organization. The Department of Student Life website has links to the MSU student government and a list of student organizations.
  • Student clubs of special interest to Zoology majors: Zoological Students Association, Herpetology Club, Birding Club, Shark Club, Fisheries and Wildlife Club, Fishing Club, Biochemistry Club, Preveterinary Medical Students Association, pre-professional clubs, etc.
  • MSU's Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, 27 Student Services, has volunteer positions in many fields.
  • Volunteer at a local park or other facility taking care of animals or maintaining the facility.
  • Participate in MSU's Alternative Spring Break.

Group Photo of the 2015 Michigan State University Herpetology Club.