Undergraduate Research: Getting Started
Why engage in research?
Discover first-hand how research contributes to the advancement of human knowledge and addresses the challenges faced by our local and global communities. Experience a change of pace from formal classroom activities and gain skills applicable to research and non-research careers. Studies show that students who engage in research are more likely to graduate and go on to graduate school, and have more successful careers after graduation.
Various opportunities are available for students to pursue a research experience during their PSU undergraduate career:
- On-campus and off-campus
- Academic year and summer
- Credit and non-credit
- Paid and unpaid
Step 1: Define your interests
- Which subject areas interest you the most?
- Which topics in our coursework or outside interests appeal to you?
- Do you have a specific project in mind?
- Do you want to discover what existing opportunities are available?
Research takes time and effort for you and your research mentor, so you want to find a project that excites and inspires you.
Step 2: Identify possible research mentors
Here are various steps you can take to identify potential research mentors.
- Browse PSU's website to learn about faculty and staff in your area(s) of interest. Most faculty members have websites highlighting their research interests.
- Explore faculty research at PDXScholar, a database of the research, scholarship, and creative works of PSU faculty, staff, and students.
- Ask current undergraduate researchers about their projects and mentors.
- Ask your professors for suggestions and recommendations.
- Attend scholarly and research seminars hosted by colleges, departments, and research centers. Many events can be found on RGS's event calendar.
- Read news articles to learn what's happening across campus and find out about new research projects and grants.
- Follow RGS's Twitter and Instagram accounts (as well as those of your college/department) to learn more about PSU research and opportunities.
- Talk with individuals in the department(s) of interest including academic advisors, faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students. If a class topic interests you, discuss your interest with the instructor or your academic advisor.
Step 3: Meet your potential research mentors
- Do your own research. Search online for each potential research mentor and their research program, including their research summaries.
- Request an appointment. Let the potential research mentor know you are interested in their research and would like to find out more about the possibility of working with them.
- Take time to write an individualized email to each potential research mentor.
- Be sure they understand you are contacting a few potential research mentors to learn about opportunities in your area of interest. This will help convey to them you are seeking the best fit for your interests and abilities and they could offer suggestions.
- Be specific about your interests and why you are contacting them.
- If a lab manager, postdoc, and/or graduate student work in the lab, you can express that you would welcome the opportunity to speak with whoever is available.
- In your initial email, do not ask if they will mentor you or fund your research project, this will come up during or after the first meeting.
- Bring a copy of your transcript or a list of relevant courses completed and your resume to the appointment.
- During the initial meeting, give the potential mentor an idea of the amount of time you can commit to the research experience, both in hours per week and total number per term.
- Follow-up! You want to make sure the conversation continues.
Questions to Consider Asking Faculty?
Here are several appropriate questions you could ask:
- Do you have a research project that needs an undergraduate student's help?
- How did you get involved with this area of research?
- Where does funding come from for your research?
- What are the typical responsibilities for undergraduate students engaged in your research?
- What are your expectations?
- What skills or characteristics do you expect an undergraduate to have before beginning a project with you?
- Are there specific courses that I should take or skills I should develop?
- Do you have any suggestions for other research mentors for me to contact?
First Contact Email Template
Consider using this template to make "first contact" with potential mentors:
Dr./Professor Your Contact's Last Name,
I'm a # Year student studying major(s)/minor(s) and currently exploring opportunities for undergraduate research, scholarly and creative work. I learned about your work faculty's expertise--e.g. "in arctic ecosystems" your source--e.g. "on the department's website" and would appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about it.
What interests you and what questions you have about their work--e.g. "I plan to... and think experience with... will help me..."
How their work advances your academic and professional goals--e.g. "I plan to... and think experience with... will help me..."
What you bring to the potential partnership, noting relevant strengths, previous experiences, courses taken, and current activities--e.g. "I'm comfortable doing..., have experience working with..., have taken courses in... and am currently...." You might consider attaching a resume or CV.
I'm available for a meeting or phone call at the following dates/times and am happy to find other times as needed.
Note when you are available to meet with as much flexibility as possible--not just your preferred times.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Your Full Name
Your Contact Information