Faculty in all schools, colleges, and disciplines – from fine arts to mechanical engineering – are actively engaged in creative projects and research throughout the year. Unfortunately, there is no single way to assist with a faculty research or creative project, or to join a lab as an undergraduate. Professors decide for themselves what their selection criteria and procedures will be. Just as all faculty are different, they all have different criteria for what makes a good apprentice. You’ll need to approach each faculty member or potential project differently, and be flexible in your approach.
Review the tips below to get started with exploring on-campus opportunities and possibilities. You can also schedule a meeting with an OUR Advisor for assistance with finding an opportunity that fits your goals and interests.
- Spend some time browsing department, faculty, and laboratory/research group websites. This is a good way to find out about projects and research that are happening on campus and to learn about faculty interests. Many department websites group faculty into interest areas or sub-fields, which can help you focus your search. Many online faculty profiles list publications – try to read some of these articles if possible. This will be useful when you speak to faculty about their work and your interests. If you are interested in working in a lab discipline, lab websites can also offer useful information about active research projects and current lab personnel (post-docs, grad students, other undergraduates), and may provide some guidance on how to apply to join that lab.
- Use Lincus to identify faculty around the university who are working on topics that interest you. Lincus allows you to run a keyword search on faculty expertise and see how research on a given subject crosses departments, schools, colleges, and campuses. Learn more about the faculty you identify by visiting their profile pages and lab websites, as described above.
- Students interested in lab disciplines can also consult Coalesce, a tool built by a UConn undergraduate researcher to help other students discover university research labs. Snapshots of many of UConn’s STEM labs are listed, which can enhance your search for research aligned with your interests. Note: We recommend that you reach out to faculty directly via email or an office hours conversation (see our advice on Connecting with Faculty) rather than through Coalesce or other portals.
- Visit your professors and TAs during office hours. This is a good way to become familiar with them and their academic interests. Ask your instructors and TAs about their work, and share your interests with them. Not only will you make a connection with a fellow scholar, but that person may also be able to connect you with a faculty member who has expertise in your area. Even if the professor you speak to is not currently seeking an undergraduate assistant s/he may know of colleagues who are seeking undergraduate assistants or who have part-time jobs open. Review our information on Connecting with Faculty for more information on this process.
- Enroll in a course with a research or project focus. Departmental advisors can be helpful in suggesting such courses. You don’t need to be working as a research assistant or apprentice to gain valuable skills and experience. The experience you gain from a course with a project or research component will also make you an attractive candidate for available opportunities with faculty.
- Talk to fellow undergraduates, especially if they’ve had successful experiences working with faculty mentors. Attend Frontiers in Undergraduate Research to learn what other students have done and to have conversations with them about their work. They may be able to connect you with their faculty mentor(s) for further discussion and potential opportunities.
- Attend an OUR workshop to learn more about opportunities and funding programs administered by OUR.
- The UConn Student Employment site will give you a list of opportunities on campus that are accepting applications. Use “research” as a search term or keywords associated with your discipline to get started. In addition, review the Center for Career Development’s Husky Career Link database for posted opportunities on and off campus.
Keep in mind that there are many opportunities that will not get posted on the Student Employment or Career Development websites. Instead, they will be advertised through department listservs, informal methods, and word-of-mouth. Uncovering these opportunities can take more effort, but it’s worth the extra work, as many of the best opportunities will be filled through referrals and connections you develop.
Do you have a Federal Work-Study Financial Aid award?
If so, you are eligible for OUR’s Work-Study Research Assistant Program, through which you can earn your work-study award by assisting with faculty research. Even if you don’t participate in OUR’s program, make sure you tell faculty members or potential employers that you have a work-study award. They can hire you at a lower cost than a student without that award because the award pays part of your wages. That saves them money, and may open up an opportunity for you.
Do you want to make research a big part of your undergraduate plan of study?
Consider making an application to the Honors Program (your capstone will be an Honors thesis project). Consider becoming a part of the University Scholar Program (a research project is the centerpiece for your last two years of study). Both programs require a strong academic record for application.