Preparing for undergraduate research
Where to begin
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Not sure where to start on your undergraduate research endeavours?
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Before undertaking an undergraduate research project, there are a few steps you should take.
Define your interests
- Is there something you feel passionate enough about to explore?
- What are your favorite courses?
- Have you had a class assignment or paper that you can expand upon?
- What previous experience or skills do you have that can be useful in research?
Explore undergraduate research opportunities
- Research and creative inquiry happens in every department at VCU, from the School of the Arts to the Department of History to the School of Medicine. All departmental websites feature faculty webpages with a description of their research interests. Go to the department webpages in your areas of research interest and search for faculty conducting research that appeals to you.
Pause for a moment before contacting faculty
- Approach faculty with respect and be mindful of their time. Visit during office hours or email to schedule an appointment.
- Read faculty profiles on departmental website pages to learn about their research and publications. Make sure that you can talk about your research interests, and ask questions about their research.
- If your initial communication is by email, use a respectful tone. Address the faculty member as Dr. or Professor. Include information about yourself and your research interests.
- Don’t send out mass emails with a general statement, such as “I’m looking for a research project. Do you have one?”
- Think about your availability to do research. Be realistic about the amount of time you have to devote to a research experience. The number of hours may vary from situation to situation, but you should expect to spend at least 8-10 hours/week.
- Faculty members are looking for students who are not just high achievers and interested in their research, but who are also reliable.
- Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find a research opportunity right away. If a faculty member doesn’t have a position for you, he or she may be able to recommend another faculty member.
- The objective is to find a good fit between your interests and abilities and those of a faculty member.
- You may want to prepare yourself with one or more courses to make ready for a productive research experience. Ask faculty for advice on how to prepare yourself to be of use in their type of work.
- Complete your free Responsible Conduct of Research certification online. Create a new profile with your VCU email address. Choose “Virginia Commonwealth University” as a participating institution. Select “General RCR” from the list of online modules.
- Have you read recent academic publications in your area of interest? Talk to your advisor or mentor about professional publications to become familiar with.
- Do you need specialized safety or other training to do research in your area of interest? Talk to your advisor or faculty mentor about what it takes to be certified safe.
Before you contact someone about a research opportunity you may want to put together the following information to provide to them:
- Your year of study (freshman, sophomore, etc.)
- Your major
- A brief summary of your background, which indicates any research-related courses you have taken, and any research experience you have already had.
- A statement that articulates why you want to participate in research with the specific faculty mentor you have identified. What is it about their area of research that appeals to you?