Virginia Tech® home

Getting Started Guide

Participating in Undergraduate Research can be intimidating, but the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) is here to help! There is no timeline for undergraduate research, you can participate as early as your first year and as late as your last. We recommend that you begin your research journey as soon as you know that you are interested in pursuing undergraduate research.

OUR is looking forward to a fun and enriching summer and hope you will join in on some of our planned activities. Everything is free and available to all students. Starting Monday, May 20, the OUR summer program includes:

  • Undergraduate Research Training Series
  • Professional Development Workshops and Seminars
  • Undergraduate Research Alumni Discussion Group
  • Community

We invite students to take advantage of these free activities to learn something new, build their resume, connect with peers and alumni, and simply have some fun!

Check out our calendar and find more information about all of our summer opportunities on the Summer Research at Virginia Tech webpage.

Roadmap to Getting Started with Undergraduate Research

Ask yourself: Why do I want to do undergraduate research? What am I curious or passionate about?

Think about what you hope to gain from a 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/professional programs or for employment, this will not impress or inspire a research mentor to work with you. Find a more personal and specific reason for wanting to pursue research. 

Undergraduate research opportunities exist in every major and you are not tied to doing research only within your major. You are only limited by your curiosity and passion.

What type of experience do I want?

There are many ways to get involved in research to fit it into your undergraduate experience.   

  • Volunteer or shadow
    Do you think you are interested in pursuing undergraduate research but are not quite sure if you want to commit? Volunteering or shadowing are great options to explore different topics and types of research.
  • Academic credit
    Undergraduate research can be added to your course schedule and may even count towards completion of your degree. Students typically take 1-3 credits of research a semester where 1 credit hour equates to about 3 hours of actual research. You cannot add undergraduate research to your schedule without the approval of a research mentor and must fill out the appropriate college forms. This form is typically due within the first week of classes each semester and must be submitted to your academic Dean’s office. Most research experiences during the academic year are arranged the semester before. Eligibility requirements, topics, deadline, and details of the experience vary so start looking early to connect with faculty.
  • Summer fellowships
    Summer undergraduate research fellowships (SURFs) are typically 8-10 weeks long, expect 40 hours of research each week, and provide a stipend. The applications for SURFs typically open during the winter, with some as early as October and are due in early spring.
  • For pay
    There are paid research positions through Virginia Tech and other research institutions. Undergraduate research may count as a Federal Work Study position.   

When do I want to get started? How much time do I want to commit?

Plan for which semester or summer that you know you will have the time to commit to research. Most academic year research experiences are arranged the semester before. Your schedule and time commitment is dependent on the faculty/lab that you work with and your personal schedule. Direct research mentoring often happens during business hours and in most disciplines direct supervision is necessary until you have developed a solid foundation of skills and earned the trust of your mentor.

Who is performing work in this area? What research programs are there?

The OUR has a database of research opportunities at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech research abroad, and research beyond Virginia Tech. The OUR also sends out a weekly newsletter with opportunities as they are sent to us.

We recommend that you look at Virginia Tech departmental websites and listservs and read about the research that the department and faculty are performing. The OUR Ambassadors have weekly office hours and can be reached by email if you want to know about their undergraduate research journeys and can help students with general information in getting started in undergraduate research. Your professors, Graduate Assistants (GAs), Teaching Assistants (TAs), and peers are also great resources.

If you are interested in research that a professor/lab is doing, send a professional email explaining who you are, why you are interested in their work specifically, what makes you a good fit, and what you are looking for. Make sure to attach your resume or CV. Faculty are more than happy to talk to students about their research and welcome them to work on their research projects, you do not necessarily have to have research experience to get started. These faculty are in search of reliable and enthusiastic students!

If you are interested in a research fellowship or more formal program ensure that you are aware of important dates and deadlines. These programs often require letter(s) of reference from a professor. The application for summer fellowships typically open during the winter.

College Undergraduate Research Forms