Getting Started in Student-Faculty Research

What is undergraduate research?

Undergraduate research is scholarly study in any discipline in which inquiry, discovery, creativity, and innovation culminate in advancements in science, technology, the arts, or humanities. Students from all disciplines – from sociology, history, Spanish and design to physics, biology and chemistry – can engage in the excitement of research.

Steps for getting started as an undergraduate researcher

Step 1. Define your research interests.

  • Which subject area(s) most interest you?
  • Which topics in your coursework interest you?
  • Do you have a specific project in mind (e.g., cancer research) or do you want to acquire a set of skills that can be transferred to other disciplines in the future?

You should really be excited about working on a research project. Do not pursue it just to build your resumé or earn academic credit.

Step 2. Identify your potential faculty mentors.

  • Ask your faculty advisor for names of IC faculty who are doing scholarly work in your area of interest.
  • Ask students in your department about their research project and their mentors.
  • Attend convocations sponsored by a department or program to learn about a specific field of study.
  • Talk with people in departments of interest including faculty, upperclassmen, staff, etc. If a class topic inspires you, discuss your interest with the professor after class.
Step 3. Meet with your list of potential mentors.
  • Make an appointment. Let the faculty members know that you are interested in their research and would like to find out more about the possibility of working with them.
  • Do your homework. Read all you can about each faculty member and their research program, if available. Find out what other undergraduate researchers say about their mentors.
  • Be prepared. When you arrive for your appointment, bring a copy of your transcript or a list of relevant courses completed and a resumé. Explain why you are interested in research and in their program. Also, give the faculty member an idea of the amount of time you could commit to research, both in hours per week and total number of semesters.
Here are several appropriate questions you could ask a faculty member you are interested in:
  • Do you have a research project that needs a student's assistance?
  • How did you get involved in this particular area of research?
  • Why is your particular area of research important?
  • Where does funding come from for your research?
  • What does a student working with you typically do?
  • What are some projects previous students have worked on?
  • Are there any particular skills or characteristics you expect an undergraduate to have before beginning a project with you?
  • What are your expectations of undergraduate researchers?
  • Are there any specific courses you suggest I take?
  • Are there any books or research articles you suggest I read?
  • Do you have suggestions for other faculty members for me to talk to?
Step 4. Select a mentor, select a project, and start working!

Keep in mind that participating in research is your first step towards realizing your future career - be sure you enjoy it!

Undergraduate research can help students:

  • Build a one-on-one mentorship with a faculty member
  • Contribute to the creation of new knowledge and apply that knowledge to real-world problems
  • Develop creative, problem-solving, critical, and analytical skills between disciplines
  • Complement learning outside of the classroom
  • Explore post-graduate career and education options
  • Improve marketable credentials for scholarships, awards, graduate-level studies, and/or the job market

Employers and graduate schools favor students with “real-world” experiences such as undergraduate research. Independent research fosters innovation and critical thinking, develops written and oral communication skills, and demonstrates acquired knowledge and skills – all qualities employers have indicated they seek. (Association of American Colleges & Universities)

Faculty mentor expectations

  • Demonstrate genuine interest and curiosity
  • Demonstrate self-motivation and show initiative
  • Be responsible
  • Some may ask students to commit for a particular length of time or number of hours/week
  • Some may ask students to complete a prerequisite

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