Getting Started in Research
Want help finding undergraduate research opportunities? Stop by our office in Dewey 4-209B during our walk-in hours or make use of the personalized advising through the Undergraduate Placement Program (UR-UPP). All undergraduate students are welcome.
Increase your "Marketability"
- Check out the Greene Center's toolkit for creating a resume. Schedule or drop in for a meeting with the Greene Center's staff to help tailor a one-page “research resume” that will best showcase your interests and skills.
- Identify and hone your "soft skills" that will drive your successful participation in lab culture--this means finding space to practice your writing, speaking, and organizational skills. Make use of the Writing, Speaking, and Argument writing consultants and writing fellows as an on-campus resource.
- Contact a librarian for tips and tricks in searching for, keeping track of, and reading literature in your field.
- Pursue available options for developing technical or methods-based skills, as appropriate (online tutorials, campus workshops, peer advising, etc.). Ask your department undergraduate advisor (or CCAS advisor) about courses that would be beneficial for preparing for research in your area.
- If you are interested in doing research involving human subjects—as you might see in psychology, public health, anthropology, clinical medicine, or cognitive sciences—here is free online training that will be necessary for you to meet safety and ethics requirements. Take a look at this guide to learn more.
- Keep up that GPA and be your best academic self. Seek out on-campus support 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. 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!
Research your Area of Interest
- 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.
- 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:
- Meet with a department advisor and/or undergraduate coordinator to discuss research you've identified as interesting - they may have valuable feedback, advice, or connections for you.
- 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.
Feel free to stop by the Office of Undergraduate Research during our walk-in hours if you would like see sample emails or have someone review a draft of a message you have written.
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.