Preparing for Undergraduate Research
We are pleased you are interested in participating in undergraduate research experience at Virginia Commonwealth University.
ADVANTAGES OF AN UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH EXPERIENCE
Research experience is valuable because it promotes:
- Learning by doing – and it’s fun!
- Skills development, including study design, data collection, computation, analysis of findings, and communication of results.
- Tangible outcomes such as research abstracts, conference presentations, and manuscripts grounded in real-world experience.
- Career development opportunities such as professional networking and resume/vitae building.
- Positive attitudes, habits, and intentions, including research ethics, perseverance, and professionalism.
Take a few minutes to browse this website, and think about what you might do and how you might become involved in undergraduate research opportunities at VCU.
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PREPARING YOURSELF FOR UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH
Before undertaking an undergraduate research project, there are a few steps you should take.
Define your interests
Explore undergraduate research opportunities
- 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?
Plan a talk with your advisor
- Research and creative scholarship happens in every department at VCU, from the School of the Arts to the Department of History to the School of Medicine. Most departmental websites feature descriptions of faculty research interests and undergraduate research opportunities. Check out the VCU website. You can start by clicking the Links and resources tab on the left sidebar of this page.
Pause for a moment before contacting faculty
- Make an appointment for a conference with your academic advisor or with another faculty member you might know in your major to discuss your research interests.
- Try to find a department contact person for undergraduate research opportunities and issues. See the link on “finding research opportunities”
- Approach faculty with respect and be mindful of their time. Visit during office hours or 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 e-mail, use a respectful tone. Address the faculty member as Dr. or Professor. In addition, don’t write – HEY Dr. XX.
- Include information about yourself and your research interests (see “be prepared” below).
- Don’t send out mass e-mails 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 10 hours/week.
Be persistent (but not a nuisance)
- 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.
- 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.
- Does your interest involve research with human or animal subjects? Follow this link for more information about regulations governing research with human and animal subjects.
Please recognize that research experience in many areas is highly sought after, and available positions in your area of interest may be limited, so be well prepared for seeking a position.
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
- Your current GPA and a copy of your transcript
- 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 talks about your career goals, why you want to participate in research, specifics about what kind of research experience you want to get, and what you would bring to the experience.
- Names of 1 or 2 faculty who can speak about your skills, background, interests and career goals, which indicate why you are a good candidate for an undergraduate research experience.
- Any abstracts you have published that may be relevant to the research work you are seeking.
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SCHEDULE A MEETING WITH YOUR VCU UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH COORDINATOR
- Contact Herb Hill at email@example.com to schedule a meeting. In your email, include:
- Your major
- Academic Year (Freshman, Sophomore, etc.)
- Pre-Med? (Yes or No)
- Brief description of why you are interested in research
- Type of Research that interests you (which academic discipline)
- Any previous research experience
The awardees for the VCU UROP Summer Fellowship in 2011 were presented during the Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, part of VCU Research Week 2011. From far left: Jared Boyd, Yeimarie Lopez, Jason Phillips, Aruna Anbazhagan, Ilijana Soldan, Jonathan Fletcher, Herb Hill (UROP Coordinator), Brendan Elliot, and Tim Fiore. Not pictured: Mary Gallagher, Victoria Hribar, Theresa Painter, Laura Peters, Mary Reck, Royena Tanaz, Tobias Wilbur.
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