First Steps

WHAT IS UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH?

UA undergraduate research opportunities are available to students who wish to pursue a faculty mentored, hands-on learning experience beyond the classroom setting. The UA offers research experiences in many areas ranging from the natural sciences and engineering to the humanities and social sciences. There are a variety of ways students can become involved in this research. Some of the undergraduate research programs are quite competitive and have strict eligibility and application requirements whereas other methods of research involvement are not as restrictive. A high GPA or an impressive résumé is not necessarily required to become involved. Most faculty research mentors are interested in working with students who are hard-working, persistent, and dedicated to the project. Being involved in an undergraduate research experience can give a student an opportunity to explore their major discipline more extensively or an opportunity to work in another discipline. Keep in mind, many faculty members require prerequisite coursework; whereas, other faculty will provide training as needed for the research project.

While it would be most beneficial to begin as early as freshman year and continue throughout one’s college career, the option of participating in research for as little as one semester is always available. Keep in mind though, the longer the time involved in research the greater the benefit. Below are the various options of participating in a research experience.

 

WAYS YOU CAN PARTICIPATE

Research as a Volunteer
A good way to begin is to volunteer. This is one of the best ways to learn about the research projects while getting to know the people working in the research group. Volunteering usually requires less time commitment and can often lead to paid opportunities at a later time.

Research for Credit
Taking research for credit is another option. It allows participation in research and earns University credit at the same time. The time commitment is generally 3hrs/wk for each unit of credit enrolled. The house numbered courses available for independent research include:

  • Honors Independent study: 199H, 299H, 399H, 499H (regular grades) Independent Study: 199, 299, 399, 499 (alternative grades not included in GPA)
  • Directed Research: 392, 492 (regular grades)
  • Senior Capstone: 498 (regular or alternative grades)
  • Honors Thesis: 498H (regular grades)

Research for credit varies between departments so it is important that an academic advisor help in the enrollment process. A signed agreement from a faculty supervisor will be required.

Research for Pay
A variety of means exist for which a student can receive financial compensation for participating in undergraduate research. However, these types of positions require a substantial time commitment (10-20 hrs/week or 40 hrs/ week during the summer). Opportunities are available both during the academic year and/or the summer.

  • Undergraduate research fellowships/internships can be attained through an undergraduate research program.
  • Some faculty members have research assistantship positions available through their research grant.
  • If eligible for the work study program, funds can be used to help support a research assistantship position under the supervision of a faculty supervisor.

Internships

Internships offer a great opportunity for professional development and exploration of ideas from perspectives different to your home institution (although you can participate on internships at your institution). It is greatly encouraged for students to participate in these programs as they will translate into a better chance of being accepted into graduate school or a job. Another incentive is that a good majority of them pay to participate and take care of your expenses while at the place of stay. A few excellent resources to search for these opportunities are presented below.

A good database with information on REU programs from various institutions:

http://www.webguru.neu.edu/program-listings/ur-listings

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) database for all Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU):

http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp

Remember, almost all undergraduate researchers had to seek out their research experience. Do not expect others to seek out these opportunities for you, be PROACTIVE. Initially, it might be difficult to find a paid research position. Undergraduate research programs which provide paid opportunities are very competitive. Do not be discouraged if you apply and do not get accepted at first. Begin by volunteering or taking research for academic credit. Many students work their way into a paid position after demonstrating their dedication to the research project.

 

SELECTING YOUR UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH ADVISOR AND RESEARCH AREA 

This will perhaps mark the most important decision of your undergraduate research experience. The decision of selecting an undergraduate research advisor and/or a research area should not be taken lightly. You will be establishing a relationship and setting up a pathway for your career. Consequently, it is important to make a thoughtful and informed decision with respect to both of these choices. Before you make these choices it is important to ask yourself what kind of undergraduate research experience you want be part of. What kind of advisor will you be working for? What kind of enviroment will you encounter in their research group? All of these questions and more should be addressed with time and patience. Take your time and talk to other members of the research group about their experiences and so forth. When you decide which research group seems like a good fit, contact the advisor to set up a meeting. Be professional and respectful with the professor! If you are unsure on how to approach the professor, please note that there are many resources (see below) explaining how to interact and communicate with the professor. Use them. Once the time to meet with a professor arrives, make sure you have prepared yourself by reading some of the recent publications and writing down concrete questions you have regarding the research, laboratory expectations and funding. See the following resources created by Purdue University regarding how to communicate with faculty, staff and peers.

 

Communicating with professors and peers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh_Y4hY91oc

Communication methods:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuudj1tTIXI

 

TIME MANAGEMENT

Joining a research group is a big commitment. In the life of an undergraduate student there are many other responsibilities such as classes, work and personal life. As such, you should be careful when managing your time. Adequate time management will help you cope with all the responsibilities. Undergraduate research is an endeavour which requires a decent amount of time. Make sure to set short and long term goals. List everything that needs to be done plus the time required to accomplish them. In order to keep track of  goals and tasks, there are various tools and techniques that could be used. One of these is calendarizing items by order of importance. Using all of these strategies and more will hopefully allow you to perform fantastic research while maintaining excellent academic standing in course work.

Video on time management in relation to undergraduate research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=93&v=O_BYRdzABfk

Google's template for an assignment Gantt chart to plan for assignments and projects throughtout the semester: https://drive.google.com/previewtemplate?id=0Ak4sns2UzEImdHJZeURnTkZORFBFWDFVSFNoT2E2bHc&mode=public 

WebGuru is an online guide for undergraduate research with additonal tips about managing time in the lab: http://www.webguru.neu.edu/professionalism/professionalism/time-management