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Mentors: Where to Look

The earlier you start learning about research opportunities, the easier it will be for you find a good research experience!

Researcher of the Month:

Noel ScudderNoel Scudder , Physics, Astronomy / Planetary Sciences majors (class of 2015), Honors College. Research area:  Understanding the mineralogy of Mars from remote sensing data (Mentor: Dr. Timothy Glotch, Geosciences).

Getting started

You're hearing about the benefits of doing research, engaging in hands-on, discovery-based learning and creation. You'd like to work one-on-one with a faculty member and learn what is happening at the forefront of your field of interest. But how do you go about it…?

1. Look at department websites.
Read through the descriptions of faculty interests and specializations. Pick one or two faculty whose work appeals to you, and do some background reading. If you're taking a class that you enjoy, talk with the instructor about possible opportunities in that field, either with the instructor or another faculty member.

Avoid blanket e-mails to large numbers of faculty in a department beginning with generalizations such as "I'm interested in the brain…or "I'm interested in cancer." Instead, try to focus on a few labs or research groups (or studios) whose projects really interest you. Contact potential faculty mentors directly to see if they would be willing to supervise you.

2. Visit the Director of Undergraduate Studies for your major (academic department). Check if there is a Departmental Research Liaison in the discipline(s) that interest you. These faculty can help you to clarify your research interests and identify potential mentors. They have the most up-to-date information about research opportunities in a particular department/discipline, and whether preparatory coursework is needed.

3. Talk to other students in your major.
Many students report learning about research and studio placement through their peers. Go to research events (for example, Biology Open House, Chemistry Research Day), particularly the annual campus-wide Celebration of Undergraduate Research where you are likely to meet students engaged in undergraduate research and have opportunities to talk to potential faculty mentors!

4. Check the URECA bulletin board for available projects/postings by faculty.
Note however that there are many more opportunities than are posted on the bulletin board.

5. Visit the URECA Director, Karen Kernan.
To find out about the range of opportunities and programs (including fellowships/grants) that are available, stop by the Library and talk to URECA staff. Ask questions. Look at past booklets of abstracts to get ideas about the range of research opportunities available. The earlier you start, the easier it will be for you find a research mentor who will help you to develop a project or research program.

Keep in mind that a faculty member may advise you to take a few more courses or serve as an apprentice before undertaking a project and that there may be limited space and/or resources in some of the labs. Despite the competition that is sure to exist for certain positions, be assured that many research options are available to you in a wide variety of subjects. Don't be discouraged if the first couple of labs you contact have no space at that time. And don't forget about the option of applying for undergraduate summer research programs!