Finding Undergraduate Research Opportunites

Students interested in finding undergraduate research opportunities have to identify the kind of research experience they are looking for, the topics that interest them, and which faculty member might be willing to act as a mentor. Those can seem like big tasks. Fortunately, we have some helpful advice about getting started. Below you will find advice about:

  1. Identifying an approach to research  
  2. Identifying your own research interests
  3. Identifying a potential faculty mentor 
  4. The right way to make contact with faculty mentors to increase your chances of finding a research opportunity
Step One: Identify your approach

The first step is to determine what you are looking to gain from participating in undergraduate research. Think about the following questions:

  • Do you need to be paid? Are you looking to get course credit through directed research?
  • Are you looking for a summer opportunity, or something during the academic year?
  • How many semesters can you commit? How many hours per week will you be able to commit to the project? Are these large spans of time a couple of times per week (e.g. 4 hours on Tuesdays/Thursdays), or short spans of time multiple times per week (e.g. 1 ½ hours, 5 days a week)?
  • What are your plans for after college? How will participating in undergraduate research aid you in these goals?

There are many ways to get involved with research at the U of M. Keep in mind your answers to the previous questions when thinking about which approach makes the most sense for you.

  • Paid positions – Working hourly in a lab or as a research assistant for a professor can be a great way to get initial exposure, training, and experience These opportunities are often posted on the UMN Office of Human Resources site. Search for Student jobs.
  • Course credit – Students work with a faculty mentor to develop a project and submit a Directed Research or Directed Studies contract for course credit.
  • UROP Scholarships – The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program provides students with semester-long funding for research projects. Applications are accepted twice per year, once near the beginning of Fall semester, and once near the beginning of Spring semester.
  • Internships – Internships can help students gain experience in a particular field. These internships are often off-campus, and can be research-based or focus on careers skills beyond research. Students can search for opportunities on GoldPass. Check out the intership resources through CLA Career Services.
Step Two: Identify interests

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking to get out of your research experience, and the particular format you would like this research experience to take, you’re next step is to narrow down your particular research interests. Think about the following questions:

  • What are some of your favorite classes? Did you like a certain topic, learning about a technique, or the teacher? Be as specific as possible.
  • Do you want to do research in a lab? Do you want to do research in an archive? Do you want to do research with art or artifacts? Thinking about where you would research and what kind of materials interest you is an important part of figuring out what kind of research you would like to do. 
  • Are you looking to dive deeper into a topic of interest within your major, or are you hoping to explore something new?

For additional ideas, you can also check out topics that other students have studied:

Find past projects:

Step Three: Identify a faculty mentor

Be thoughtful about what types of research you are interested in and therefore which faculty members you decide to contact. Start by generating a list of 10-15 faculty members that you are genuinely interested in doing research with by exploring the work that they do. Search for faculty using keywords at Experts@Minnesota.

In addition to the Experts search, every department and program in CLA has research centers and information about faculty members’ research interests and research opportunities for students on their websites.
 

Step Four: Make contact

It is beneficial to do your homework and make a good first impression. After you familiarize yourself with the work that faculty members do, email the faculty member and ask to set up an appointment to discuss their research and undergraduate opportunities for working with them. Keep in mind the following tips:

  • Be courteous. Address the faculty member as “Dr.” or “Professor.”
  • State the type of research opportunity you are seeking, how many hours a week you can work, and why you are interested in working with them. Be sure to articulate how your interests match with their research.
  • Attaching an unofficial transcript and/or resume is acceptable, but not always required.
  • If a faculty member does not respond within a week, it is appropriate to send a reminder email.
  • Be professional, but do not be afraid to show that you are enthusiastic.

Sample Email

Below is a sample email to use as a template when contacting prospective mentors.

To: mentoremailaddress@umn.edu
From: scholaremailaddress@umn.edu (use your umn.edu account and not any other email address as Yahoo, Gmail, etc.)
Subject: Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Dear Professor/ Dr. LastNameOfTheMentor (advice: in an academic environment professional titles as Dr. and Professor are preferred to formal titles Mr., Mrs,. Ms., etc.)

My name is (__________) and I am (first/second/etc.) year student at the University of Minnesota. I am interested in (mention your general career interests or specific discipline interests.). I hope to complete (UROP/URS/IUROP/Directed Research/volunteer) research opportunity. I would like to set up a meeting to discuss your research interests and possible opportunities for mentorship.

You can continue in this paragraph with any background experience you might have that might be relevant to this research and might attract Mentor’s attention.) I am interested in 
because (state main reason(s) that attracted you to this scholar. Be concise.)

I would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience for a half hour conversation. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
[Your Full Name]