Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Engaging in research at the undergraduate level has many benefits. It gives you the opportunity to take what you have learned in the classroom and apply those skills and knowledge to a real-life question. It helps you to understand concepts that are integral to your area of study. You will improve your self-confidence, critical thinking skills, and communication skills. The research experience and the networking opportunities it provides will ultimately help you in making your career decisions.
You will not know the answer to this question until you get involved and try it out. For some students, participating in a research opportunity is the best thing that they have done during their academic career; whereas, others may not like it at all. Until you actually try it, you will not know.
Begin with the information found on this website. Use the faculty database to search for faculty who are working in the areas that interest you. Explore several of the undergraduate research programs (links found on the undergraduate research program page) websites, some of which will post a detailed listing of student projects. Next, check the departmental and individual faculty websites for more detailed information on the faculty's research area. Sometimes faculty may have posters posted outside of their offices to help you identify what they are working on. Attend departmental seminars and student club meetings and talk with your peers that are engaged in research. When possible, go to undergraduate research poster sessions and check out the projects undergraduates are working on.
Not all faculty have the time nor resources to work with undergraduates. Use the searchable faculty database on this website to focus on faculty who do work with undergraduates. You should be able to find several faculty within your area of interest willing to incorporate undergraduates into their research team.
Do not limit yourself to only opportunities within your department. Several of the programs focus on an interdisciplinary approach to solving a problem. Or, you may find something that interests you in a related area. Someone with a mathematics major may choose to use their skills to address a biological research problem. Many research opportunities exist both on the UA campus and at other colleges and universities from across the country. Some of the programs even offer a research experience abroad.
The answer to this question is very dependent on the particular faculty and research project that you are interested in. Some faculty members are willing to take an inexperienced student with a strong work ethic and commitment to their project. They will train them with the necessary information and skills needed to transition them to the research project. Whereas others, expect a certain degree of background coursework before they will work with you. Be honest with the faculty member about your background and interests.
Start as soon as possible! Start planning during your freshman year as to when you would like to build research into your schedule. Use your freshman year to explore your options and adjust to college life. If you are in good academic standing by the end of your freshman year, talk with several faculty you might be interested in working with. Consider volunteering time in their research lab or take research for academic credit. You can apply to one of the undergraduate research programs for summer work keeping in mind that most of the program application deadlines are at the beginning of the spring semester for work during the summer. You will benefit from the research experience no matter how you decide to participate. But, bear in mind, the longer you are involved in a project the more you will benefit from the experience. It is recommended that you continue your research beyond a semester or summer experience. Even though, you may be a junior or senior it is never too late to get involved.
Do NOT be discouraged! There could be any number of reasons you did not receive a response. Sometimes your email may not be noticed or they are out of town. Be sure to include the purpose of your inquiry in the attention line. Then follow-up with a phone call to set up an appointment to speak with them. They may tell you at that time that they are not accepting additional students or do not have funds to support a student. Do not take the lack of response personally. They might be able to help you with suggestions of others or tell you what pre-requisites are needed to work with them. Consider approaching another faculty person with similar interests.
Expectations will vary with the professor you are working with. Duties can range from routine work and data collecting to planning the next experiment or different approaches to problem solving. You should be prepared to read and understand recent publications and be engaged in the research group. Be prompt for research meetings and stand by your time commitment to the project. Be ready to discuss, absorb, and learn!
Explore the research areas you are interested in. Read a few recent publications in the area and discuss them with a friend, classmate, or teacher. Attend colloquiums hosted by your department and engage in conversations with the presenter. Plan on when and how you are going to participate. Plan your course schedule such that you can participate in a research opportunity.