Why do research?
Participating in a research project as an undergraduate is a valuable way to gain additional knowledge and experience beyond the classroom. Many faculty have opportunities within their research groups for a limited number of undergraduate students. The potential benefits to the students are many, including the chance to work closely with a professor and their graduate students, exposure to what goes on in a university research lab, the chance to prove yourself on an open-ended project, and hands-on experience that will prove valuable to a future industry job or graduate school application. In particular, if you are interested in grad school, exposure to research can help you to identify what are the cutting edge areas of research, what you might like to specialize in, or even whether grad school is really for you. In some exceptional cases, students are able to publish as co-authors on conference or journal publications. However, a good research experience requires the student to be bright, hard-working, and highly self motivated.
Participation can take many forms, which is primarily determined by the needs of the professor and the nature of the research that they do. Some projects may last only one quarter or summer, however often a professor is looking for a longer term commitment. This is because it often takes a significant amount of time to get up to speed, and a longer time period makes it more likely that some significant result will be obtained. Participation might be purely volunteer, it might be paid, course credit may be available (i.e. through EE199), or a separate stipend may be available (particularly in the summer).
How do I find a research position and/or faculty mentor?
Finding a research position is not like enrolling in a class – it is more like applying for a job. It requires you to identify what type of research you are interested in, and then sell yourself to the professor. Taking an undergraduate into their lab is a big investment for a professor – they want to be sure that you are motivated to learn and work hard, will finish what you start, and can work well with their existing lab members. If you are interested in working in a particular lab, the first step is to visit the professor’s website, to see what they do, and perhaps read a few of their papers. This website has links to available positions. However, even if a specific position isn’t posted, there may be unadvertised opportunities. In this case, you could contact a professor with your transcript, CV, and a brief (1-2 paragraph) description of your background why you want to do research.
Here are some questions you may also wish to ask a potential faculty mentor:
· What is the goal of the project? What will I be doing exactly?
· What is the expected time commitment?
· Who will I be supervised by – a grad student, a postdoc or you?
· Will I be working with other undergraduate students?
· What would be considered success by you on this project?
· What specific skills/experience should I have already? What will I be learning “on the job”?
· What is the duration of this project? Is their possibility for summer research?
How to prepare for research?
Here are some general tips and suggestions:
· Every professor has different requirements and expectations for students. One way to get a sense of the requirements is to look over the specific position listings, and to see what the requirements are, both in terms of coursework and other experience.
· Programming is a common entry point in many projects. Basic programming experience can be obtained through the CS31/32 computer science sequence. Specific experience with environments such as MATLAB or Labview (used to control lab equipment) may also be helpful. The HKN student group offers MATLAB tutorials periodically throughout the year. Labview Student Edition can be downloaded for a small charge, and there are many online tutorials available.
· The IEEE student group offers a variety of hands-on projects which are a great way to learn how to design and build. Their Ops program offers introductory project experience. Micromouse and Natcar projects are more advanced projects