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Getting involved with research as an undergraduate can seem like a daunting task. But with proper assistance and detailed information, everything will run efficiently. You can start looking for the opportunity that is best for you by reading the information below.


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

    Be Proactive

    • Reach out to mentors your interested in. They are used to interacting with students and in general will be happy to talk about their work.
    • Look up and read past papers by faculty you're interested in. PubMed is a good starting point for biological sciences, for example. You can also look them up on their department website or find them on Scholars@UAB.

    Be Resourceful

    Be Committed

    Plan to contact several potential mentors (about 10 messages) 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 However, some faculty members may be on leave, no longer active in research, or only have time or resources to take on a limited number of students.


    • Enthusiasm and genuine interest: Be familiar with the mentor’s research and be specific about why it interests you. Connect the opportunity to your academic and career plans.
    • Commitment and reliability: Be clear about your availability (when you can start, how long you can commit, how many hours per week) and your flexibility.
    • Knowledge and skills: Briefly mention relevant courses you've taken, your grades/GPA, and previous lab experience. Consider sending them a CV/resume.
    • Clear intentions: Let them know what you want. For example, are you looking for independent study leading to an honors thesis or a work-study position leading to a research opportunity? Ask to meet with them in person to discuss further opportunities.
    • Making it easy for them to say yes: Send your request from your @uab.edu email address and include your complete contact information
    • Making it okay for them to say no: Include language like "If a position is not available in your lab, would you please refer me to a colleague who might have an opening?"
    • Brevity: Mentors are very busy. Keep your email short and to the point (eight sentences max).
    • Politeness: Address them with respect ("Dear Dr. Smith") but also be persistent. Wait a week, then follow up with a second email or office visit. They could say yes or no — no matter which it is, be polite and thank them. You are still building relationships and a reputation.

    When you meet with potential mentors, remember:

    • Be on time. Be yourself. Be ready to discuss your goals and interests.
    • Listen attentively.
    • Avoid dressing too formally or too informally.
    • Remember the key traits for success:
      • interest in the field
      • willingness to learn
      • commitment to being part of the research effort
      • enthusiasm
    • Ask to meet the members of the lab and to see the lab.
    • Be ready to discuss the projects and be prepared to be offered a choice of projects — read the web site, published papers, and background information.
    • Ask about expectations: Time? Independence? Who will be your 'direct' mentor?
    • Be picky:
      • If you are in the position to choose a lab for yourself, don't commit if you aren't sure.
      • How much do people work? Do people get along well? Is the PI accessible?
      • Do your homework and make a wise choice.

    • Research is not just bench work! 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! 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. Take the initiative to find and read as much as you can about the topic from peer-reviewed journal articles. Although it can be intimidating, it is necessary.
    • Build relationships. Meet regularly with the head of the lab. They 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. Even if it's a sub-project from something someone else in your lab is doing, make it yours. At some point you should design, execute, and interpret experiments on your own.
    • 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.
    • Don't give up. Experiments fail, lab meetings go poorly, or you just feel overwhelmed. It's important to remember that this kind of experience is typical.
    • 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.
  • FAQs

    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.

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