FAQs about undergraduate research

  • What is undergraduate research?

According to the Council on Undergraduate Research, undergraduate research is “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.”

  • Why do research?

There are SO many reasons to become involved in undergraduate research.  Just to start, you will be taking the opportunity to develop skills that are necessary for and improve your marketability in graduate school applications, your career, and in your personal life.  You will gain experiential education that is translatable to real-world skills that are requisite for jobs.  You will have the opportunity to develop and hone networking and social skills.  And you get to do all of this while contributing to cutting-edge research in any field here at the U.  In addition, research is fun.  You get to immerse yourself in a project led by top researchers and develop skills and personal attributes that will continue to benefit you throughout your life.

  • What will I gain by doing research?

Again, there are SO many potential benefits to doing undergraduate research.  You will increase your research literacy, technical knowledge, laboratory skills, presentation skills, and/or writing skills.  You will have the opportunity to use sophisticated instrumentation, to work independently, to figure out if you want to pursue this discipline as a major and/or a career, and to work toward a recommendation for graduate school, pre-professional study, or jobs.  You will increase your own agency, your vision for your life, your participation on campus, in your classes, and in your own life.  You will develop leadership, inspiration, creativity, and self-confidence. You will improve your citizenship and overall capabilities.  Not to mention that you will also be gaining work experience and, in some cases, money!

  • The U is a research institution.  What does this mean?

Your professors are engaged in research – in addition to teaching classes – it is their job.  What this means for you is that there are many research opportunities available at the U and that they are at the cutting-edge of their disciplines.  This also means that you are in an excellent position to learn the expertise of your professors and to be on the cutting-edge of research yourself!

  • Can any student do undergraduate research?

Yes!  To participate in most of our programs, you must be a degree-seeking student who is enrolled full-time and you must have a Faculty Mentor.  There are many other programs and opportunities to do research as well.  (Please check out our Getting Started page to see some of the opportunities offered by our office, throughout the university, and nationwide.)  And you can always do research as a volunteer or in an informal arrangement with a Faculty Mentor.

  • When should I start doing research?

Right now!  It is never too early or too late to start doing research.  There are many opportunities on campus that are ongoing and/or need undergraduate students for various time commitments. Any way you do it, you will develop skills and learn about research!

  • How do I get started?

Make an appointment with our Undergraduate Research Advisor and see our Getting Started page for more details.

  • I don’t have a specific project in mind.  Is that ok?

Yes.  In fact, this may even be preferable.  This is for two reasons:  First, the U is a top research institution and it is to your overall benefit to leverage the expertise of the faculty that is available to you.  Get to know what your professors know best!  Second, it may help you to work on a faculty’s existing project to develop the research skills you need to move on to an independent project. Working on a Faculty Mentor’s project is a great learning experience, as it allows you to immerse yourself in research while developing skills and knowledge about that project.  It’s a win-win situation for you.

  • I do have a specific project in mind.  Is that ok?

Yes.  As long as you have a faculty mentor who is willing to help guide you through your own independent project, do it!

  • Can I get funding for research?

There are many ways to find funding for your research.  You can apply to the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program or check the Getting Started page for more opportunities.

FAQ’s about the OUR/UROP

  • How many people get accepted into UROP/What is the acceptance rate?

Each year, as more and more students get involved in research, admission to the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program gets more competitive. So being engaged in the research project prior to application and being prepared to write a strong (4-6 page) proposal is important to the overall success of your application.  We are here to help you prepare a strong application – make an advising appointment and attend our seminars and workshops!

  • What kind of research projects do people tend to do/Is this program open to all subjects and fields of interest?

Our programs are open to students in any subject or field of interest.  For example, our students work in chemistry labs, conduct archaeological field work, create works of art, choreography, write novels, and any other kind of research and creative work you can imagine.  Our programs are also open to multi-disciplinary projects.  You just need a faculty mentor for whatever project you choose. Check out our Undergraduate Research Journal for examples of research by undergraduate students.

  • What is the best way to approach a faculty member about mentoring me?

Every faculty member is different and will have different preferences, so we suggest that you approach several faculty members and in a variety of ways.  Email faculty who work in your subject of interest, approach faculty with whom you are already acquainted, are taking a class from, and/or ask for introductions to faculty whose work interests you.  Some faculty prefer to know a student before agreeing to work closely with them while others are willing to work together on a trial period following a brief email conversation.  Utilizing several methods really is to your advantage.  Set up an appointment with our Undergraduate Research Advisor to find relevant faculty, use the Office of Undergraduate Research faculty database, use the “Find a Researcher” tool on the U’s website, and approach department advisors about which faculty may be interested in mentoring you. (See below section on things to think about in regard to your potential mentor and questions to ask when speaking with a potential mentor.)

  • Do you have to be a part of UROP to apply or receive Small Grants, Travel Grants, or the URSD?

No.  Small Grant and Travel Grant awards and the Undergraduate Research Designation (URSD) are open to students whether or not they have participated in UROP. UROP is an easy way to achieve URSD, but any way you meet the requirements for that distinction is fine.

  • Can I get more than one Small or Travel Grant?

Students may receive only one Small Grant and one Travel Grant. Preference is given to Travel Grant applicants who have not recently received travel funding for UCUR and/or NCUR.

  • Is participation in RoCH or URS required for participants in UROP?

Participation in Research on Capitol Hill (RoCh), and especially the Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) are strongly encouraged.  What is required is that the student present his or her UROP work within three semesters following the initial semester of UROP funding.  This presentation must be at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, or the National Conference on Undergraduate Research; OR at a national/international professional conference in the discipline (and must be pre-approved by the Office of Undergraduate Research). Please see our UROP page for more details.

Other Helpful Information

  • Things to think about in regard to your potential mentor
    • What research experience does your mentor have in the area of interest to you?
    • What is your mentor’s reputation at the university and in the greater academic community in scholarship, teaching, and mentoring?
    • Has your mentor worked with undergraduate students in the past?
    • What is your mentor’s preferred communication style? Are you comfortable with it?
    • How often does your mentor expect you to communicate with him/her?
    • Will your mentor be available on a regular basis to provide advice and assistance?
    • Does this mentor seem genuinely interested in you as a student?
    • What space, equipment, and instrumentation does your mentor have available for your projects?
    • What is your mentor’s publication record with undergraduates?
    • Does your mentor take undergraduates to conferences to present their work? Does your mentor’s department provide financial support for these experiences?
  • Questions to ask your potential mentor 
    • How many hours each week will you expect me to work on the research?
    • How many weeks or months will you expect me to work?
    • What form of compensation are you able to offer me for my contributions to this research?
    • What will my specific role be on the project?
    • Who will be my immediate supervisor on the project?
    • What training can I expect to receive?
    • What skills can I expect to develop over the course of my participation in this project? With what instrumentation will I gain experience?
    • How will you measure my progress on the project?
    • Are there any regular group activities that you will expect me to attend?
    • Will my research be likely to result in publication and/or presentation of this work? If so, what are your rules for authorship?
    • How likely are you to be able to write me a letter of recommendation in 5 years?