What to Expect

Participating in undergraduate research is an exciting opportunity and privilege, but can also be a bit daunting when first navigating how to find opportunities on campus and knowing what to expect. Overall, undergraduate research will usually involve you (the student) working with a graduate student/post-doc/lab tech/staff scientist on a research project related to the goal of your research advisor.  Listed below is more information about what to expect when getting involved in undergraduate research. You may also find answers to your questions on the FAQ page.

Student in goggles studying a reaction in organic chemistry lab class

Apply Your Knowledge

  • Research is a great opportunity to start applying the knowledge you have learned in your classes!
  • Relevant coursework is not required for all research groups, but may be encouraged as you progress through your undergraduate courses
  • Research is very specialized so will always require lots of additional learning beyond your course work – ask lots of questions of your mentor!

Explore New Areas of Research

  • Undergraduate researchers are encouraged to explore all sorts of disciplines they may be interested in before making their choice of which field to conduct research.
  • The Chemistry Department has professors leading research in all areas of chemistry, and many of them conduct research that is interdisciplinary with biology, medicine, engineering, materials, physics, etc.

Learn as much as you can

All research opportunities, will offer the opportunity to learn new laboratory techniques and investigate chemical concepts.

Depending on what lab you join, you may have the opportunity to:

  • Work instruments you only heard about in class
  • Design new instruments or improve on existing ones
  • Synthesize new molecules or materials
  • Utilize cutting-edge software to analyze data
  • Become an expert in a very specified area of chemistry

Your mentor(s) will work with you to develop a project and you are encouraged to share your suggestions.  The project will be related to the focus and research goals of the research group and will be approved by the research advisor.

Graduated cylinder with 10 milliliters of liquid
Student researcher looking through a microscope.

Commit Your Time

Research groups look for students that are willing to commit several hours a week (often a minimum of 6-8 hrs/week), have 3 or 4 hr blocks of time in their schedule, and are hoping to stay in the same research group for multiple semesters. This allows undergraduate researchers to become fully immersed in the research environment.

Contribute to the Scientific Community

Often, research experiences culminate in a written or oral presentation that allows students to communicate the results with their research group, their department, or the greater scientific community. The Department of Chemistry organizes an undergraduate poster session every spring where students involved in undergraduate research showcase their results. Students’ findings may also be presented at campus-wide undergraduate symposia, at regional and scientific meetings, such as American Chemical Society meetings, or may be incorporated into papers submitted for publication. For additional information, please click here.

Develop Your Scientific Identity

Your goal as an undergraduate researcher should be to conduct novel research. However, the level of independence required of or given to undergraduate researchers will vary depending on the group you join, which research project you have the opportunity to work on within that group, and your experience and knowledge in the field. Keep in mind that most students need training on the specific techniques/instrumentation their research group uses when they begin, so there often is a period of time where you will be asked to repeat experiments that have previously been done or make starting materials for group members before moving on to a project of your own. Use this ‘training’ time wisely—ask lots of questions so you can learn as much as you can about how these techniques or methods work and what role it plays in the bigger picture of the research group. As you gain more experience, knowledge and confidence, along with trust from your research group, you will be given more independence to investigate individual research questions.

Network With Mentors

Most often, beginning undergraduate researchers will have the opportunity to participate in ongoing research projects under the supervision and guidance of a mentor/adviser — usually a graduate student, postdoc, advanced undergraduate or professor mentor. Your mentor will likely go through moderate to extensive training on the new techniques/instrumentation you will need to know. Some of this training will build on what you learned in previous laboratory classes, and some will be completely new. Overall, your mentor is there to help you, so you should be prepared to ask lots of questions. As you gain more experience, you will be expected to become more independent and may even be asked to take the lead on the research project.

Tips for effective working relationships include:

  • Strong communication – including determining the best form of communication
  • Aligning expectations between advisor, mentor, and student
  • Be respectful of you mentor’s and adviser’s time (be on time, stick to an agreed upon working times, and give timely notice of any changes to your schedule)
  • Ask lots of questions, but think through them first and take notes when your mentor answers or when learning new techniques/skills