The first experience is often the most challenging to find. The more experience you have the easier it is to get experience. There are often skills and background required to be productive in research and few students have those at the on-set. Getting students up to speed takes time, energy, and resources from the mentor. As a result, connecting early with faculty can be better. If they invest in you, they have the option of keeping you around for longer and are more likely to see you make significant research contributions.
Ask yourself: why I you want to do research? Think about what you hope to gain from research experience—particular skills, experiences, understanding of how course content connects to “real life”, knowledge in a specific area, etc. Though adding items to your resume is a practical reason for interest in research and may help boost your chances for acceptance into graduate programs or for employment, this will not impress or inspire a research mentor to work with you. If you want to do research in a particular area because you think you should or you think it will make you more competitive, think again.
- Be sure you are ready: Lack of commitment or lack of interest in the specific research topic will likely be reflected in your performance. You will not learn as much from the experience and you are less likely to get a good letter of recommendation from your faculty mentor.
- What type of research experience do you want? Undergraduates can engage in research as a volunteer, for academic credit (4994 or 4994H), or for pay. Volunteering can be a lower level of commitment in terms of hours per week and or number of weeks. As a result, volunteer opportunities may allow you to try different types of research and learn what type of research environment is best for you.
- Ask yourself: Would you be willing to accept any of these options to get your initial experience?
- When do you want to conduct research? You can conduct research during the academic year or during the summer. Summer experiences can be full time or part-time. There are many full-time summer research opportunities that offer a stipend to cover your living expenses, allowance for travel to the research location, free housing, professional development and social programming and more. This is particularly true in science, technology, engineering and math, but all disciplines offer these types of programs.
Note: Most summer research application deadlines are early in the spring semester. Some deadlines are as early as October for summer research. Also, most academic year research experiences are arranged the semester before. Eligibility requirements, topics, deadlines and details of the experience vary so there is a good amount of “homework” needed to figure out what you are able to do. The message = Start looking early!
- How much time do you have and when will you have it? The direct research mentoring often happens during business hours so when you have blocks of time will matter. This will help you decide if you have time to do research and how much time you might be able to dedicate. In some disciplines direct supervision is necessary until you have developed a solid foundation of skills and earned the trust of your mentor.
Faculty are more than happy to talk to students about their research and welcome them to work on their research projects.. These faculty are in search for reliable and enthusiastic students.
Participating in undergraduate research is one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences one can do while at Virginia Tech.
Add value to your field. By adding knowledge and actively participating in conferences and symposia, students gain the ability to network and greatly expand their horizons.