Getting involved with research as an undergraduate can seem like a daunting task; however, with proper assistance and detailed information everything will run efficiently. Find the opportunity that is best for you from the list below. If you can't find what you're looking for or are unsure about your options, make an appointment with the Office of Undergraduate Research and we can assist you in finding the best fit for a research opportunity.

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The Office of Undergraduate Research is excited to announce an exciting new partnership with ScholarBridge. ScholarBridge is tool that promotes student and faculty involvement in academic research. This online network allows professors to post their availability for mentoring students. Student members can search the ScholarBridge data base of professors and opportunities — at any point in their academic career — to actively pursue a research focus and find the right mentor. Visit ScholarBridge and create a free account.

 

 

  • Get Advice
  • Finding Opportunities
  • Finding Mentors
  • Contacting Mentors
  • Interview Tips
  • Successful Researcher
  • FAQs

  • Attend any how-to info sessions and departmental sessions across campus.
  • Talk to your instructors, your advisor, graduate students, post docs, and the Office of Undergraduate Research for suggestions.
  • Talk to fellow undergraduate students engaging in research.

  • Be proactive. Finding professors to work with doesn't happen by accident! Reach out to people you're interested in. They are used to interacting with students and in general will be happy to talk about their work with anyone interested in listening.
  • Be resourceful. There are numerous ways to learn about different research activities at UAB and elsewhere. Most faculty have profiles on department websites (though they may be outdated). Additionally, look up and read past papers by faculty you're interested in. PubMed is a good starting point for biological sciences, for example. Also, don't be afraid to ask former or current students from that lab what their experiences were like; they will be honest!
  • Be professional. When you interact with a PI (Principal Investigator) for the first time, make sure to dress appropriately, be polite, engage in conversation, and ask questions.
  • Be honest. If you are trying to work in a lab, talk to the PI upfront about expected work hours, meeting times, project ideas, etc. What you want and what a PI wants may not match up at first, so talk about it sooner rather than later.
  • Be picky. If you are in the position to choose a lab for yourself, don't commit if you aren't sure. The topic of the lab is not the only factor you should consider. How much do people work? Do people get along well? Is the PI accessible? These are a few of the many questions you should ask yourself. Do your homework and make a wise choice.

  • Learn about faculty research in the UAB departmental web pages:
  • Plan to contact several potential mentors in your search for the right fit. Many faculty members are active in research projects and are happy to mentor undergraduates. However, some faculty members may be on leave, or no longer active in research, or only have time or resources to take on a limited number of undergraduate mentees.

  • Remember — not every potential mentor will say “yes”, and not all who do will be appropriate for you. Be prepared to send out 6-10 messages.
  • Mentors value enthusiasm and genuine interest: be familiar with the mentor’s research and be specific about why it interests you. Connect the research opportunity to your academic and career plans.
  • Mentors value commitment and reliability: make clear your availability. i.e., when you can start, how long you can commit, how many hours per week, and your flexibility.
  • Mentors value knowledge and skills: briefly mention relevant courses, grades/GPA, and previous lab experience. Consider attaching your CV/résumé as a pdf file.
  • Make clear your intentions for the relationship — e.g., independent study leading to an honors thesis or work-study position leading to a research opportunity.
  • Make it easy for the mentor to say “yes:” send your request from your @uab.edu address and include your complete contact information.
  • Make it ok for the mentor to say “no:” “If a position is not available in your lab, would you please refer me to a colleague who might have an opening...”
  • Mentors are very busy: keep it short & to the point (8 sentences max).
  • You are starting a relationship: be polite and respectful (“Dear Dr. So-and-so”).
  • Ask to meet with them in person to discuss further opportunities.
  • Be persistent, but polite. Wait a week, then follow up with second email or office visit.
  • If they say yes or no, be polite and thank them. You are still building relationships and a reputation.
  • Plan to contact several potential mentors in your search for the right fit. Many faculty members are active in research projects and are happy to mentor undergraduates. However, some faculty members may be on leave, or no longer active in research, or only have time or resources to take on a limited number of undergraduate mentees.

Be on time; Be yourself: avoid dressing too formally or too informally, and listen attentively.
Key traits for success: Bring an interest in the field, a willingness to learn, a commitment to being part of the research effort, and the enthusiasm that will carry you through to your goal of being an independent scholar.

  • Be ready to discuss your goals and interests.
  • Ask to meet the members of the lab, to see the lab.
  • Be ready to discuss the projects — read the web site, published, papers, and background information.
  • Be prepared to be offered a choice of projects — know enough to make a thoughtful decision.
  • Ask about expectations: Time? Independence? Who will be your ‘direct’ mentor?

Research is not just bench work! It is its own mini-society into which you should seek to become enculturated. Getting the most out of a research experience will involve a lot of work in a lot of areas but is ultimately rewarding for the connection to an international endeavor.

  • Don't be nervous! If you have never held a pipette or coded a program, don't worry. No one is born doing this stuff; it will take weeks, months, and years to perfect your techniques. Labs are set up to mentor you through this process, so many older students, postdocs, or faculty will help you along the way. Just ask! Make sure you have a point-person to whom you can go for help by default.
  • Read! READ MORE. Class work you do in undergrad will not help you understand the science behind your chosen research lab. You must take the initiative to find and read as much as you can about the topic from peer-reviewed journal articles. Whether you're grappling with the alphabet soup of molecular biology, the complex mathematics of astrophysics, or the opaque abstractions of cultural anthropology, you will be confused at first, but you will be surprised how quickly you acclimate. This is an intimidating task, but it is necessary if you want to be a true student researcher and not merely a lab technician.
  • Build relationships. First and foremost, you should make sure to meet regularly with the head of the lab in which you work. He or she will be an important mentor and guide for you throughout your experience and beyond. Everyone in your lab can also be a future collaborator or connection or resource. Make friends!
  • Find a project that is your project. Carve out your own kingdom, even if it's a sub-project from something someone else in your lab is doing. Parrot-performing experiments dictated to you is not a fulfilling activity, although it is definitely necessary while you are in the training phase. But at some point you should design, execute, and interpret experiments on your own. This type of planning and deep thinking is not replicable in anything else you'll ever do.
  • Ask questions. Whether at lab meeting or in individual meetings or at seminars, being curious will help you learn more and appear more invested to those around you. No one wants to work with a student who doesn't seem to care about his or her work, so make sure to stay engaged.
  • Don't give up. Research experiences can be tough sometimes. Experiments fail, lab meetings go poorly, or you just feel overwhelmed. It's important to remember that this kind of experience is typical. Be persistent.
  • Take responsibility. Ultimately, you will get out of your research experiences what you put in, and others around you will sense your commitment or lack thereof. If you want a minor side activity, you can get it, but don't expect to be dazzled by the payoff. If you want to really put forth the effort to get the most out of your time in a lab, prepare for the rewards! 

Q: Do I have to have a project picked out to present to my advisor?
A: No! Most professors already have ideas or projects for you to join.

Q: Do I have to completely understand the field that I am going to research in?
A: No, research is all about learning new things. If you already know everything then it wouldn’t be fun!

Q: Do I have to do research every single day and on the weekends, because I have classes and a job?
A: Most professors allow you to make a schedule of when you can and cannot be in the lab. It is more about your mentor and your work ethic.

Q: What should I wear to meet with my advisor?
A: Most would say business casual, but it’s really all about your comfort level.

Q: Do I have to come and do all my work by myself once I start?
A: It depends, but usually a graduate student or the advisor will mentor you until you are ready to work alone.