How do I get involved in research?

Wondering how to join a lab or find a faculty sponsor for your research project? A great first step is to visit the Undergraduate Research Center (URC), where you can learn how to get on the road to research!

Located in the Student Community Center, the URC was created to help students get involved in research. "We meet with students one-on-one," says URC Director Gail Martinez, "and develop a plan that matches who they are."

Martinez says first-year students should visit the URC to discuss their interests and learn about research options. Sophomores are in prime time to start a research experience and juniors who haven't begun the process have no time to waste.

There's a particular urgency for transfer students to visit the URC. "Transfer students headed for graduate school need to hit the ground running," says Martinez. "If they're applying to graduate programs, they may have only spring and fall quarters to get research experience for their graduate application."

Tammy Hoyer, URC senior program manager, says, "At the URCenter, we help students identify opportunities, overcome any hesitancy they may have about interacting with faculty members, and put their best foot forward, but we don't have the resources to connect students directly with a faculty member."

First Steps

URC Program Coordinator Raynell Hamilton says students should read up on a faculty member's research and peruse their publications, most of which is online. "At this point, the student should have questions ready to ask the faculty member," says Hamilton. She continues, "Next, I advise students to e-mail faculty members to express why their research is of interest and request an in-person meeting."

Finding a faculty sponsor is more like getting a job than enrolling in class, points out Hoyer. "This process is much more successful than sending out mass e-mail messages," she says.

If You Don't Read Anything Else, Read This

According to Martinez, the single most important thing students can do to kick off their research sponsor search is attend the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference.

"At the conference, students can see what their peers have been researching and who they've been working with," says Martinez. "It's essentially one-stop shopping for a faculty sponsor. Also, approximately two-thirds of students presenting are seniors, which means faculty may be looking for undergraduates to replace those who are leaving."

Another tip URC advisers have for students looking for a sponsor: visit professors during their office hours to talk with them. "You don't have to be taking a class with a professor to drop in during their office hours. Again, be prepared with knowledgeable questions," says Martinez.

Students may not be aware that the campus offers a research progression for undergraduates. "Students engage in the research and can elect to participate in the Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities Conference," Hoyer says. "Interested and eligible students can go on to present at a national conference and publish their research in the campus journal Explorations or apply for the President's Undergraduate Fellowship. Finally, a student may be nominated for the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research." Each step in this progression is optional, however.

It's Not Just for Scientists

Martinez emphasizes the center is open to all students, any year, any major. "The prevalent notion is that research experience is only for students in the sciences, but we provide guidance on developing a research project for any major."

Hoyer adds that research experience is highly valued by medical schools. "Pre-meds know that clinical experience is expected for med school admission, but a majority of successful applicants have research experience as well," she says.