What are your expectations of your research experience? What is it you want to learn from this experience? Before you get started, you’ll want to identify your goals and objectives as well as your strengths and the skills you want to develop. By identifying your learning goals, and areas for development, you’ll be better able to identify a good fit between you and a potential research project.
Define Your Research Interests
To identify your areas of interest, consider the types of research you'd like to conduct. What courses have you enjoyed? What questions or issues in your field interest you? Knowing the type of work you want to do and understanding the environment in which you'd like to conduct your research are essential for the next step: finding the right research advisor.
Find a Research Advisor
An important step to a successful research experience is identifying a faculty advisor who can guide you through your research. Your goal is to find someone whose research goals and personality seem to compliment yours. Review department web pages and identify faculty whose research interests are similar to your own. Talk to other students who are already involved in research. Ask your current professors or graduate assistants. They can usually guide you in the right direction.
Email the potential mentor to determine whether he or she is interested in having you join their research team. In your email, discuss goals, your knowledge of the topic and the professor’s work. If you’ve have research experience, be sure to describe the work you’ve done and with whom. Let the faculty member know you’d like to meet to discuss their research, and determine your next possible steps.
If you hear back from the potential research advisor, schedule an appointment. Take with you to the meeting:
- A resume
- A brief write-up of your research interests and what skills you are developing or would like to develop
- A list of relevant courses that you’ve taken
- A notebook and pen.
Before the meeting, you’ll also want to think about your interests and goals. If you know you’d like to go to graduate school and study X, share this with your potential mentor. If he or she isn’t a match, you might get an excellent recommendation of another person to meet with.
Here are some recommended questions to ask when you meet with this advisor:
- Is there a project(s) within her/his research program suitable for an undergraduate student?
- Does she/he have a position or space in the lab for you?
- If you were to work on this project, would you be supervised directly by her/him or by a postdoc scholar or graduate student?
- If you have a chance, review articles published by the author in the last two or three years. Published work is often a good indicator that the research is considered worthwhile by the scientific community and is an excellent indicator of the reputation of the researcher and the quality of his/her work.
- If the project really excites you and you get satisfactory answers to all your questions, make sure that you and the advisor will get along and that you will enjoy working with him/her and other members of the research group.
Be prepared and show interest. Taking notes shows that you’re engaged with what the potential mentor is saying, and you’ll be ready to jot down any names or other recommendations while you’re meeting.
Immediately after this meeting—and any future meetings—with your research advisor, send an email thanking the professor for meeting with you and include a brief summary of your discussion (focus of research project, what you can bring to his/her research, and other items you may have discussed).
Remember that this advisor may be writing recommendation letters on your behalf to future employers, graduate schools, etc., so you want to leave a good impression. To do this, you should understand that the research must move forward and that if you become part of a research team, you should do your best to achieve this goal. At the same time, your advisor should understand your obligations to your course work and provide you with a degree of flexibility.
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to do your best on both course work and research. Make sure that the advisor is committed to supervising you as much as you are committed to doing the required work and putting in the necessary/agreed upon hours.
Select a Topic
What "big" questions or areas of your field intrigue you? Consider what you're trying to accomplish. Your research advisor will likely have an ongoing research project in which you can assume a meaningful role. However, be sure that the selected research topic is a good fit for both you and your research mentor.
Schedule a follow-up meeting and choose a research topic. Your project should be something you could reasonably complete in the scheduled timeframe (summer or academic year). If possible, try to pick a project that you have enough time to finish, even if it may not be super-cool or super-ambitious. The goal is to choose a solvable and manageable research problem that will allow you to accomplish something significant.
Remember, research requires a major investment from both yourself and your mentor. Be sure to check in with your mentor on a regular basis, set manageable goals, and discuss your project's progress. Learn more about how to have a rewarding mentor/mentee relationship.
Identify Prospective Research Opportunities
Faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are actively engaged in research. To discover research opportunities:
- Think about interesting classes or coursework. Professors often research in the same area as the courses they teach. If there’s a class you’ve enjoyed, contact the professor and see if you might become involved in her research.
- Ask for recommendations. Make an appointment with your academic advisor or the chair of the department in your research area. Come prepared with a list of your interests, and read about departmental research before the meeting. You’ll be able to have a conversation about your goals, and you can ask for recommendations about professors you can approach.
- Check out the research opportunities list. UCARE maintains a list of current opportunities. You might also google “undergraduate research assistants” and see what surfaces.
- Read about faculty research on the web. A good place to start is the Office of Research & Economic Development web site. You’ll find the latest research news and stories highlighting the cutting-edge research conducted by UNL faculty. Another site that lists faculty research interests is the Graduate Program Profiles, available on the Office of Graduate Studies web site. Once you select an area of interest, scroll to the bottom of the Program Profile. There you’ll find a listing of department faculty and their research areas.
- Talk to your friends. Chances are good that one of your friends from classes or someone from your hall is involved in undergraduate research. Ask questions about their research.
Remember: Don’t limit your research opportunities to your major! Students in the history department might research with a modern language professor, or a Biological Systems Engineering undergrad could research with a biochemistry professor.
Are You Eligible?
If you meet the following criteria, you’re eligible to apply for an undergraduate research assistantship:
- Currently enrolled as a full-time, degree-seeking student in an undergraduate degree program at UNL.
- Currently a freshman, sophomore, or junior
- Will have completed 30 credit hours of undergraduate work before June 2013 (but not more than 120).
- Will commit to at least 10 hours of research a week (Academic Year applicants) or at least 20 hours of research a week (Summer applicants).
- Have identified and confirmed a faculty member who is willing to serve as a faculty research advisor.
- Have attended a UCARE Application Workshop.
- Have a research abstract approved by the research advisor.
- Are willing to participate in all UCARE sponsored events.
If you don’t have 12 or more available hours a week to devote to an undergraduate research project, it may not be realistic to participate at this time.
UCARE undergraduate researchers take learning beyond the classroom by gaining hands-on experience through research. As a UCARE participant, you'll work with nationally and internationally renowned faculty, honing and refining valuable research skills along the way.
Interested in expanding your horizons through UCARE? Find out more….
Steps to Success:
- Identify a faculty research advisor
- Identify a research topic
- Draft a research proposal abstract
- Review/discuss the proposal with your research advisor
- Attend a Application Workshop
- Confirm eligibility
You’re ready to apply for an undergraduate research assistantship.
Learn about the various undergraduate research opportunities available to you and how you can begin your research.