Now. It’s important to get started as soon as possible. Freshman year is not too early; sophomore is ideal, and it is starting to get late when you are a junior or senior. There are many reasons for starting early. A research experience should ideally last several semesters or years in order for you to have sufficient exposure to the activity and to allow the time needed for you to develop research skills and foster professional relationships with other researchers. Also, starting early increases the chances you will develop enough knowledge and skills to be able to present at conferences, serve as an author on a manuscript and/or write an honors thesis. Starting early can also let you know soon whether a type of research is not suited for you.
You can begin to get involved in research in various ways. You can ask an instructor about their research. You can read faculty biographies in your department or in similar disciplines to review their research interests. For student projects, you can search the Honors Thesis Project archive in Scholar Works.
Also, you can get advice by contacting:
- Jacob English to schedule a research advisement appointment
- Peer Research Ambassador (more information coming soon)
- The director of undergraduate studies in your department
Identify possible mentors: Look at the department website for your major/discipline. There is usually a list of faculty members with a description of their academic interests. Be flexible regarding the types of areas you might be interested in and create a list of your top 5 or 10 favorite researchers. Be prepared to contact many faculty before finding a placement. Perseverance pays off.
Contact possible mentors: Send a brief (~7 succinct sentences) professional email that contains the following information:
The reason you are contacting them
- Indicate the position you are inquiring about e.g., research volunteer, practicum, etc.
- Show that you are interested in their research and know what it entails. A common error is for students to use a generic sentence from the researcher’s website. Instead, read the researcher’s papers/books and use 1-2 sentences to describe why their research interests you in such a way that conveys that you took the time to learn about their research. Also, make sure to explain how this research connects with your career plans (1 sentence max).
- List any relevant professional/academic experience and coursework, GPA, and make sure to indicate if you are an honors student.
Indicate your availability
- How many hours per week (at least 10 hr weekly; weekends and evenings are not usually an option), when you would be ready to start, how many semesters you would be available (researchers are more likely to want to work with a student who will be available for more than 1-2 semesters).
Your complete contact information
How to handle responses:
If there is no position available
- Thank them for their response.
- You can also ask if you can contact them again in the future.
If you do not hear from the person in 1 week
- You can resend the email one more time with a polite reminder. For instance, you can say something like, “I am resending this inquiry from x date in the event that it may have gotten lost in your email traffic.”
- If you still don’t hear from them, move on to person #2 on your list.
If they have an opening
- Thank them
- Ask to meet in person to discuss the work, expectations, etc.
- If the faculty member has not suggested potential meeting times, then you should list several days and times that you would be available to meet (be flexible and provide a wide range).
What to do in the interview
- Don’t arrive early or late
- Dress professionally, but not formally
- Take notes
- Be prepared to answer questions about your career goals and reasons for wanting to participate in research
- Be prepared to discuss the research and have questions ready about the research. These questions should demonstrate that you have familiarized yourself with the research.
- Ask about expectations (e.g. when you should be there, whom you should report to and work with, whether any specific deliverables will be expected, whether you will be expected to provide updates/meet regularly with your mentor, etc.)
The Faculty Associate for Research and Thesis and Research Program Coordinator are available to assist you if you have any questions about how to get involved in research.
- Subscribe to the Honors College Research listserv
- Read the Undergraduate Research Column: The Grind
- Apply (as an incoming freshman) or receive a recommendation (as a current student) to join the University Assistantship Program
- Attend Research Skills Workshops and work towards the Research Skills Certification and Research Distinction
- Participate in GSURC
- Complete an Honors Thesis Project
- Submit research projects to DISCOVERY
- Apply for travel and research funding