Getting started in undergraduate research

We hope that you will consider participating in a research, scholarly, or other creative projects—independently or as part of an existing faculty project—outside of your academic program.  Advantages of participating in research as an undergraduate include:

  • getting an insider's perspective into the research process
  • gaining essential technical and non-technical skills that will benefit you now and throughout your career
  • developing a deep understanding of who you are and what you want to do
  • strengthening the quality of your resume when applying for jobs, graduate schools, or other pre-professional programs

How do I get started?

Translating your ideas into research designs can be a daunting process. The university is dedicated to helping you make the most of your higher education experience, and has many resources to help you from start to finish. 

There are three critical components to being an undergraduate researcher: 

YOU are excited and open-minded about your discipline.

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 Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the possible areas of research that interest or intrigue you?  Considering subjects or classes that have excited you; what topics have piqued your curiosity or passion?
  • Why do you want to do research?  How might participation in research be relevant or important to your long-term goals?
  • Do you enjoy challenges and solving problems?  Are you self-motivated and an independent worker?  Are you persistent in completing projects?  How well developed are your time-management skills?
  • Can you afford to take some time away from your coursework to devote to the project this semester/year?  If not now, when might be a good time to become involved in research?

Whether you choose to participate in an existing faculty project or develop your own independent research project, you should have a genuine commitment to thoroughly exploring the topic and expanding your knowledge base in that area.

INTEREST in exploring your academic discipline in more depth with a faculty mentor 

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There are many ways to find research opportunities here:

  • Approach your current (or previous) class instructors about whether topics that you find intriguing would be appropriate for a research project. Make appointments with them to discuss your ideas (refer to the Faculty Mentor section below for hints on how best to do this).
  • Talk to your adviser and to other undergraduate (and graduate) students who are doing research in your area(s) of interest.  They have many insights to share and you can bounce your ideas off them.
  • Check the Interns-to-Scholars (I2S) program for available internship opportunities each semester.
  • Investigate research opportunities in your department or in a related department. Search the department’s website to learn about the research interest of potential faculty mentors. Sometimes faculty members’ personal websites are linked from the departmental site, and many departments have existing research projects that need undergraduate researchers.
  • Discuss your research ideas with a faculty member who is doing research that interests you.  Although it can be intimidating, our faculty are eager to work with undergraduates.  Set up an appointment to discuss your ideas.
  • Sign up for a research-intensive or methods course.

Regularly check the posting on the Research Opportunities webpage.

A FACULTY MENTOR who is willing to help you. Selecting the appropriate faculty mentor is critical for a successful undergraduate research experience. 

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Many faculty members have major research projects that are already underway, and you may be able to contribute to their research goals with your own research project.  Our faculty are known for being very approachable, down-to-earth scholars.  They will be excited to talk to you about your research ideas and their research projects.

Remember, all Hooper Undergraduate Research Award (HURA) applications require that you have a faculty mentor to help you create a great research plan and to help you through difficult parts of your research. 

Contacting and meeting with potential faculty research mentors

Contact a potential faculty mentor. 

  • Introduce yourself in a formally-written e-mail and express your interest in the faculty member’s research; if you plan to talk to several potential mentors to find the right match with your interests, be sure that you indicate this.
  • Attach your resume to your e-mail (or bring it with you if you visit during office hours).
  • Ask for an appointment to discuss research opportunities in more detail.
  • Alternatively, find out the posted office hours for potential faculty mentors; the faculty set up these hours as times that they are specifically available to talk to students.

Always be prepared and professional when contacting and meeting with faculty. Your interactions with faculty members can be as important as a job interview.

Reading the faculty member’s website or one of their recent publications would be beneficial.  

Be prepared to answer these questions when you meet with a faculty member:

  • Why do you want to do research?
  • Why are you interested in the faculty member’s research?
  • What are your future educational or professional goals?
  • How does research fit into your goals?
  • How much time do you have to devote to a research project?
  • Have you taken any courses relevant to research?  If so, which one(s)?

You should also prepare a list of questions to ask the faculty member, such as:

  • What are some possible opportunities for undergraduates related to your scholarly work?
  • How many undergraduate research projects have you mentored? What did these students do?
  • What are your expectations for undergraduate research projects?
  • How could I (the student) prepare for doing research? 

Thank the faculty member for taking the time to discuss research opportunities with you.

Selecting a faculty mentor

After meeting with one or more potential faculty members, select the one who best fits with your research project and personal style.  Generally speaking, choose a faculty mentor who:

  • is engaged in research in your area of interest
  • has a track-record of mentoring and publishing with undergraduate students
  • has a communication style with which you feel comfortable
  • is accessible
  • seems genuinely interested in you
  • has the space, equipment, and instrumentation needed for your project

Getting academic credit for your independent research projects

Work with your adviser to determine whether your research project is also appropriate to receive academic credit toward your degree. 

For projects funded by the Hooper Undergraduate Research Award (HURA), you will be required to register for at least one hour of undergraduate research or independent study every semester you receive HURA funding (including summer).