Getting Involved in Undergraduate Research
According to the Council on Undergraduate Research, undergraduate research is “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline." There are SO many reasons to become involved in undergraduate research. Just to start, you will be taking the opportunity to develop skills necessary to improve your marketability in graduate school applications, your career, and in your personal life. You will gain experiential education that is translatable to real-world skills that are requisite for jobs. You will have the opportunity to develop and hone networking and social skills. And you get to do all of this while contributing to cutting-edge research in any field here at the U. In addition, research is fun. You get to immerse yourself in a project led by top researchers and develop skills and personal attributes that will continue to benefit you throughout your life.
How do I find a lab or research to do?
Tips for Finding Research
Talk to your professors! They are a wealth of knowledge and LOVE to talk about their work. Talk to them after class, or set an appointment to talk about their work and your interests.
Go to the department's website that you are interested in and click on the research tab. Read short summaries on each professor's research. It's okay if you don't understand the research right away- this is normal! Keep a list of faculty that interest you to narrow down your options.
Browse through publications by the professor with titles that interest you. Most professors keep a list of current publications. Read the abstracts and look at images- this will help you narrow down topics.
Contact the professors you are interested in working with, either by email or talking to them directly. You may need to email them several times. This is okay; they are very busy and often appreciate the reminder.
Some professors will want to see an updated resume or curriculum vitae (CV). Schedule an appointment with your career coach if you need help.
If the meeting goes well and it seems like a good fit, you can talk about the next steps to becoming a member of their group. Discuss how many hours you would like to work, how many semesters, and future plans for opportunities, such as UROP. Ask who your lab mentor, the person you will spend most of your time with, will be.
If it doesn't seem like it will work out, that's okay. Repeat this process with another professor. If you are not quite sure, and you want to get a better feel for the research group, ask if you can attend a weekly group meeting, where current students in the group often discuss their current research.
Example Email to a Professor
Dear Dr. ______________,
My name is (insert your name) and I am a (first year,sophomore, junior, senior) (___________) major at the University of Utah. I have been exploring research opportunities in the department, and after looking through your research page, I would like to meet with you to discuss (your studies, a certain topic, opportunities to work in your lab, etc). (Feel free to elaborate on your interests and what you are looking for.)
I can meet (give 3-5 different specific dates and times that work for you...this allows them to choose a time that works for them). Would you be able to meet at any of these times?
I am looking forward to hearing back from you.
Thank you for your time,
How do I get funding for my research?
There are several ways to get paid for the research you do. Here are the more common ways that students work toward:
How do I present my research?
One of the best parts of doing research is presenting at conferences.
Here are some opportunities available to students at the U:
- Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) at the U in the spring
- Posters on the Hill (February)
- Utah Conference for Undergraduate Research (UCUR)
- National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR)
- SPS Meetings, including PHYSCon (November) and Zone Meetings
- American Physical Society (APS) Future of Physics Days
Make sure to include your presentations on your resume and curriculum vitae (CV)!
You can also ask your research mentor about opportunities to submit your work for publication.
What is an REU?
National Science Foundation (NSF) funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU Site consists of a group of ten or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel. Undergraduate students supported with NSF funds must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. An REU Site may be at either a US or foreign location. Students must contact the individual sites for information and application materials. NSF does not have application materials and does not select student participants. A contact person and contact information is listed for each site.
To search for an REU site or for more information about REUs, click here.
For information about our department's REU offerings, click here.