Getting Started in Research

Learn more about what it means to do research as an undergraduate student. Check out our Guide to Getting Started for tips on exploring your interests, marketing your strengths, and communicating professionally. Watch our "How to Get Started in Research" video. Find out about conferences and publications where you can share your research, such as the Journal of Undergraduate Research. Explore!

Want help navigating undergraduate research at the University of Rochester? Contact us at or try our new AURA system to view job postings and contact information.

Research Your Area of Interest
  • Use department webpages, our research-by-department page, or the URMC lab / clinical pages to identify faculty doing work on a topic, problem, disease, or technique that is of interest to you. Consider:
    • Current projects or research interests of different professors or research teams
    • Focuses of recent publications
    • Recent research news releases related to a research team or research topic (try the University Newscenter or the URMC Research Blog)
  • Network! Most positions are found by knowing the right person at the right time—don’t be afraid to talk to people to gather information, not just to try to find a position.
    • Network with your peers: Join the undergraduate council or organization affiliated with your major (check out Campus Community Connection).
    • Network with your professors: Attend office hours, seminars, and department events to get to know faculty members.
  • Visit department websites or the University Events Lectures and Talks calendar to find research seminars to attend in your area of interest.
  • Explore opportunities for structured summer research positions on and off campus. Though some positions prefer students with previous research experience, others are designed to be your first gateway into research!
Increase Your "Marketability" as a Candidate for Research
  • Check out the Greene Career Center's resume page.
  • Identify and hone your "soft skills" that will drive your successful participation in research culture.
  • Ask your department undergraduate advisor (or CCAS advisor) about courses that would be beneficial for preparing for research in your area.
  • Keep up that GPA and be your best academic self.
    • Seek out on-campus support through Learning Center, study groups, and course office hours if there’s a class that’s giving you trouble.
  • Identify concrete blocks of times in your schedule when you would be available to do research work.
    • Figure out your “number”: how many hours per week are you going to be able to commit consistently to research?
    • Your capacity to commit time and be fully accountable to your commitment is one of the most important components of a positive research experience. Plan ahead!
  • Explore opportunities for structured summer research positions on and off campus.
    • Though some positions prefer students with previous research experience, others are designed to be your first gateway into research!
Reach Out!
  • Send an initial interest email to a professor. If the professor is part of a larger research team, check to see if there is a lab manager, post-doctoral student, or research faculty member that you can include on your email. In your email, think about:
    • Respect: you are speaking with busy people who know working with undergraduate students means a time and training commitment on their part
    • Who you are: your year and major (recommend attaching a resume instead of going into too much written detail)
    • Your area of interest for research and your goal/reason for wanting to be involved
    • Get specific about why you are contacting that particular professor. Why are you interested in their work? What have you read about their work that stood out to you?
    • Your preparation for research: relevant trainings, courses, skills, or previous experiences (be BRIEF, if applicable)
  • In your initial email, include a request for a meeting to discuss ongoing projects/the mentor's research. When meeting with a professor, you should:
    • Review the information about the professor and their research before you meet with them.
    • Go curious and confident! A professor is looking for someone who respects the importance of their work and is motivated to learn more.
    • Be prepared to give them a summary of the coursework and skills relevant for the work you might be doing.
    • Understand that mentoring an undergraduate on a research project takes substantial effort on the mentor's part. It is important that the project and student fit well together and that the timing works for the mentor.
  • Follow-up on your email in a week if you do not receive a response. Reply to your original message to maintain a chain of contact.
  • Meet with a department advisor and/or undergraduate coordinator to discuss research you've identified as interesting and faculty you have reached out to—they may have valuable feedback, advice, or connections for you.

Click here to view some sample emails. Note that they all share professionalism, context, specific content, and brevity; see that your messages have these characteristics, too!

Complete Independent Trainings

Project-specific training will likely be needed once you connect with a research team. Ask your supervisor! In the meantime, see if you can complete any independent trainings that match your research intentions:

  • Clinical Research Readiness Training resources
    • What is it? All the foundational trainings you'll need to get started in human subjects research (CITI, HIPAA), clustered together in a series of modules. As you complete trainings, add them to your resume!
    • How do you access it? Search “Clinical Research Training” in the Blackboard “courses” tab.
  • SPARC pathway for those interested in research in the biological sciences.
    • What is it? A series of online and in-person courses designed to help you prepare for and make the most of a research experience. Courses focus on building technical and professional skills.
    • How do you access it? Search “SPARC” in the Blackboard “courses” tab.
  • Search online for free tutorials and workshops. There are many websites, for example, that offer crash courses in Python or R.
  • Use the University Events Calendar to check for research-relevant campus workshops available through the library (e.g., Tinkerspace), student service offices, and individual departments.
Prepare for Research Conversations
  • Go curious and confident. A good fit for research will be
    • Authentically interested in the work the research team is doing (indicators: questions, attentiveness),
    • Trainable (indicators: timeliness, attentiveness, open to learning new things instead of trying to present as an expert, follow-up on meetings, availability in schedule),
  • Before your meeting, think carefully about
    • What interests you about what the research team does - what caught your attention about their projects, publications, and what you read about on their website?
    • What do you want to get out of participation in research? How does it relate to your personal goals?
    • What questions you have—this can be the hardest part, sometimes. Ask at least 2 questions if you can.
      • Content questions might arise from a topic you're interested in that the lab studies that you want to know more about.
      • Skill questions get at what you'll be up to on a day-to-day basis, what unique instruments the research team might use, whether there's any literature you can read to prepare for that type of work, if there are skills you can build through workshops or online training, etc.
      • Social questions get at the way the lab group functions—who you will be working most closely with, how frequent lab meetings are, and so on.
  • Bring a paper copy of your resume and current class schedule with you, in case talks about availability come up (great for demonstrating trainability and responsibility/accountability).
  • Bring a notepad to take notes if the setting seems right for it.
  • If you’re meeting with the head of a lab group, ask for a lab tour or to talk to a graduate student about what they like about working in the lab.
Maintain Positive Professional Relationships
  • Establish clear expectations with your mentor/supervisor. You and your mentor should come to an agreement on the following areas before you get started to cultivate a positive working relationship:
    • How frequently you will meet face-to-face
    • How closely you will work with a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in addition to the faculty member
    • What blocks of time, hours of the day, or hours per week, consecutive weeks, or quarters you will work
    • How you will be trained
    • Whether you will attend lab or research group meetings (and, if so, will you need to prepare something for them)
    • Whether you will work in the lab or research area, or if there is work you can take home to complete
    • What kind of final product you will produce
  • Be the active, responsible party in initiating and organizing one-on-one communication.
  • Work with your mentor to set short- and long-term goals and deadlines for the different stages of your project.
  • Learn your faculty member’s communication habits. When does email suffice? When must you meet face-to-face? When—if ever—may you call them at home?
  • Consider sending summaries of meetings restating tasks and the division of labor.
  • Always read books or articles your faculty member recommends to you and share your responses. Take the faculty member’s suggestions seriously and let them know that their time with you is well-spent.
  • Always express your thanks after the faculty member has taken the time to meet with you. Send a thank you note or email stating what you gained from the interaction and how you plan to move ahead.