University of Wisconsin–Madison

Steps to Get Involved

  1. Determine what type of research opportunity you are seeking.Student Researcher examining a vile of solution.

There are many ways to get involved in undergraduate research; you may do research for course credit, as an internship, for pay, or as a volunteer. Think about what may work best for you.

  1. Decide what interests you.
  • Think about what chemistry classes and labs you’ve particularly enjoyed. Was the content of the class/lab more chemical biology, inorganic, chemical education, analytical, organic, materials, physical/theoretical, or environmental?
  • Search around to learn about what other people are researching. Look online or look specifically at the research being conducted in the Chemistry Department.
  • Attend departmental and university research forums and seminars to get an idea of what research is possible.
  • Talk to your fellow classmates, your TAs, and your professors.
  1. Identify faculty members that you want to work with.

After you decide what type of chemistry interests you, browse the faculty listings at chem.wisc.edu and identify four or five professors who are doing projects you would like to work on. That said, sometimes professors aren’t able to take research students due to insufficient funding, limited lab space, limited personnel/mentors, etc. Don’t take this rejection personally, stay flexible and just move on to your next choice.

To identify potential faculty research advisors:

  1. Contact potential faculty advisors.

Either write a compelling, concise email or stop by the faculty member’s office. If you write an email, do not write a generic email saying, “Hi!  My name is ____ and I’m interested in doing research with you. When can I start?” You’ll almost never get a response. You must put some time into this if you are serious about doing research. You can think of this process as being very similar to finding a job — it’s a good idea to have a resume ready in case you are asked for it and you must always be on your best behavior (make sure you don’t have spelling errors in your emails, etc.)

Click here for hints on how to write a good letter.

  1. Follow-up.

Professors are very busy. If you don’t hear anything back in a week, try emailing again. If you still don’t hear back, stop by their office and ask if you can set up a meeting to discuss their research. Remember that when you communicate with professors, you must be respectful and prepared. Treat it like a job interview — make sure you do your homework before your meeting (you should know what type of research they do before talking to them, you should have an idea of what type of project you would like to work on, etc.)

  1. Fill out an Undergraduate Research Form (pdf) and return it to the Undergraduate Research Office, Chemistry Room 2110 .   

Once you have found a research adviser, fill out the chemistry research authorization form. This form must be completed, signed by both you and your lab mentor, and returned to the Undergraduate Research Office every semester you are conducting research for class credit, pay, or as a volunteer.

  1. Still having trouble?

The hardest part of getting involved in research is usually finding a research mentor. Some students may be lucky and find a research mentor immediately. Most students, however, may need to contact several people multiple times before finding a research lab that is taking undergraduate students. Don’t get discouraged though — although getting involved in research can be the most valuable experience in your scientific career, it also takes commitment and a lot of patience.  If you are having a hard time finding an advisor or would like additional information regarding undergraduate research, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Cheri Barta, Undergraduate Research Director, or visit the Undergraduate Research FAQ web page.  If you plan to come to Office Hours or schedule a meeting, please fill out the following form to let us know more about you and your research interests (Get Started – Meetings).