Inquiry-driven learning, research internships and course-based undergraduate research experiences all represent mechanisms through which educators can engage undergraduate students in scientific research. In life sciences education, the benefits of undergraduate research have been thoroughly evaluated, but limitations in infrastructure and training can prevent widespread uptake of these practices. It is not clear how faculty members can integrate complex laboratory techniques and equipment into their unique context, while finding the time and resources to implement undergraduate research according to best practice guidelines. This review will go through the trends and patterns in inquiry-based undergraduate life science projects with particular emphasis on molecular biosciences—the research-aligned disciplines of biochemistry, molecular cell biology, microbiology, and genomics and bioinformatics. This will provide instructors with an overview of the model organisms, laboratory techniques and research questions that are adaptable for semester-long projects, and serve as starting guidelines for course-based undergraduate research.