Getting Started in Research

1. Do well academically and explore your interests and goals:

Your first priority if you are new here at the University of Rochester is to do well in your classes and explore your intellectual interests.

2. Network:

Talk to the professors in the areas of your interest. Learn about the culture of research in that area and in the relevant department(s). Join the student academic organizations in the department most closely aligned with your interests. Chat with students who have done research in those areas. Go to departmental seminars when they seem like they might be interesting and accessible to you.

3. Survey the landscape of opportunities:

Spend time looking at web sites associated with the departments and programs most closely aligned with your interests. Talk to professors and undergraduate support administrators. The way in which undergraduates get involved in research varies widely throughout the disciplines of the University. In some areas, students work closely with professors on aspects of the professor’s ongoing research program. In other areas, students formulate their own research problem to pursue and they are advised by a faculty member working on somewhat similar things. Some professors are willing to work with freshmen and sophomores and others are inclined to work only with juniors and seniors. Often the work is done in the context of an independent study course. Other times the work is done on a volunteer basis or for pay. A good place to begin to learn about the research culture and opportunities in an area that interests you is the department-by-department listing in the Office of Undergraduate Research web site. You can also check-out the undergraduate research job listing service.

4. Contact professors with whom you’d like to work:

Review the information about the professor and their research, which is available on the web, before you meet with them. Be prepared to give them a summary of your coursework and skills that are relevant for the work you might be doing. Be considerate of their time. Understand that mentoring an undergraduate on a research project takes substantial effort on the mentor’s part and that it is important that the project and student fit well together and that the timing works from the mentor’s point of view.

5. Take appropriate research methods courses and attend seminars:

Many departments have courses and/or seminar series that are designed to introduce students to discipline-specific research methods. Consider taking quest and honors level courses in the area of your interest. For example, in computer science, undergraduates are even encouraged to attend research group meetings!

6. Consider a summer research experience:

An in-depth summer research experience is one of the best ways for a student to get started and find out what doing research is really like. Summer research programs for undergraduates at the University of Rochester and at institutions across the U.S. usually pay a stipend. One popular program is the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Ask the professors and administrators in the department(s) closely associated with your interests about summer research programs in that discipline. Spend some time online researching the summer research opportunities in your area(s) of interest.

7. Maintain a positive working relationship with your mentor:

  1. Initiate a conversation early in your working relationship in which you and your faculty member agree upon expectations and working agreements: 
    1. How frequently will you meet face to face?
    2. How closely will you work with a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow in addition to the faculty member?
    3. What blocks of time, hours of the day, or hours per week, consecutive weeks or quarters will you work? 
    4. How will you be trained?
    5. Will you attend lab or research group meetings, and, if so, will you need to prepare something for them?
    6. Will you work in the lab or research area, or is there work you may take home to complete?
    7. What kind of final product will you produce?
  2. Be the active, responsible party in initiating and organizing one-on-one communication: set meeting agendas, prioritize issues you want to discuss, be a leader in discussions.
  3. Work with your faculty member to set short- and long-term goals and deadlines for the different stages of your project.
  4. Learn your faculty member’s communication habits: when does e-mail suffice, when must you meet face-to-face, and when—if ever—may you call her or him at home?
  5. Consider sending summaries of meetings (agreements, assignments, work outlines) restating tasks and the division of labor.
  6. 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.
  7. Be curious and share your knowledge. The more you do so, the more seriously your work and aspirations will be regarded.
  8. Always express your thanks after the faculty member has taken the time to meet with you. Send a thank you note or an e-mail stating what you gained from the interaction and how you plan to move ahead.