This helpful guide should give you some tips and pointers on how to go about pursuing undergraduate research, why it is worthwhile and where you can find more information and opportunities.
Why do research as an undergraduate?
- Find out what interests you – or doesn’t. This is a perfect time to explore a variety of fields, approaches, working styles, career paths.
- Shop around for graduate schools. Network with professors and researchers.
Summer vs. School-year Research
- Summer research programs are more intensive—you are generally expected to commit full-time to the research program without taking summer classes or working other jobs. Good summer projects are designed for you to get results quickly; you learn a lot in a short period of time.
- School-year research is part-time (typically up to 10 hours per week), with work hours arranged around your class schedule. Doing research during the school year requires time management, and progress can be frustratingly slow. However, school year research may allow you to stay long-term on a single project and are more likely to lead to senior thesis projects, publications and opportunities to attend professional meetings, as well as integration into a research group.
- Some programs (such as the COEHD Undergraduate Research Training Program) allow you to do both - begin your research during the summer and continue throughout the academic year.
Going It Alone - Arranging Your Own Research Project with Individual Faculty
- Think about what interests you, then find out who does it – check out faculty webpages, ask your course instructors and TA’s about research areas in their department.
- Approaching faculty or researchers - be clear about what you’re asking for! Do you want your own research project or do you want to assist others? Do you want credits? Do you want a senior thesis project? Will you volunteer or do you need to be paid? What time commitment can you make?
Formal Summer Programs - How Do I Identify a Good Research Program?
- Novice researchers should look for organized research programs that provide programmatic support such as arranged housing, weekly group meetings and social activities with other research interns, etc.
- Experienced researchers can be more adventurous about finding their own placements, not necessarily within the scope of a formal program.
- Think about your primary motivation for doing research. If you are interested in graduate school, then look to the institutions where you might go. If a particular research area gets you most excited, then find out where that work is being done. Professors are an excellent source of information about who does what and where.
- Interdisciplinary research can be very exciting and challenging, and is an excellent way to learn about a wide variety of career paths that you might take with a given background/degree.
- Use the web to go shopping. If want to go to a specific institution, then go to their website and hunt around the academic department and research center websites.
How Do I Create a Competitive Application?
What do application reviewers most want to see?
- They want to see a convincing and appropriate motivation for doing research;
- They want some evidence that you are capable, reliable and mature; and
- They want to see that you have done your homework.
- Statement of Interest Essay: This is a critical piece, and demands your best effort. Discuss in detail your personal motivations, the WHY you want to do research. Sharing an experience or mentor that/who excited you about your particular interest is a good example. Do not write a generic multi-purpose essay for 10 different programs. Better to choose just 3 or 4 programs and hand-tailor your essay to match the research focus or other attributes of each program.
- Recommendation Letter(s): This is the second most critical piece. Get letters from professors/instructors who know you personally, preferably someone who is knows the full range of your abilities. Letter writers should be from the same or related field/area as your research interest.
Other Things to Keep in Mind:
- Application Deadlines for formal summer programs are generally February to March – start early!
- Start and End Dates will be very different for programs at semester-system vs. quarter-system schools. Contact the program coordinator to discuss the possibility of starting and ending late/early – some places may be flexible.