Student Researcher's Handbook                      

Finding research opportunities as an undergraduate can be difficult. Here are some helpful hints to aid in your journey.

Expectations & Commitment Research Conduct

How to Get Started

When looking for a research or creative project, explore subjects you’re passionate about, but remember to remain open to other possibilities. Inspiration may come from a personal experience, a class, a topic within your major, or an interdisciplinary combination of several topics. Try to find what is available and match existing opportunities with your interests and commitments. Some on-campus opportunities and off-campus opportunities are announced on the UROP Web site and through school and department bulletins, but be aware that many opportunities are not listed. If you are interested in working on campus and have identified a faculty mentor you would like to work with, contact her/him to express your interest (see Selecting a Mentor, below, for our recommended procedures to find and contact a potential mentor). If you would like more information on specific research opportunities, contact the UROP Office for an advising appointment.

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Selecting a Mentor

It is very important to prepare before approaching a faculty member or applying for a research position. We recommend that you use UCI’s Faculty Profile System to find professors who are working on topics that interest you. Find out what they have written or performed, and read articles they have had published in journals. Try to attend one of their lectures, performances, or productions. This will give you an idea of the type of work they are doing and will demonstrate your level of interest to the faculty member. Check our on-campus opportunities listings to see if the professor you are interested in has submitted an opportunity. Whether or not the professor has listed an opportunity online, we encourage you to contact them if you are interested in doing research under their guidance.

To contact a potential faculty mentor, we recommend sending her/him a three-paragraph e-mail. Introduce yourself to the faculty member in the first paragraph: why you are interested in doing research, why this topic interests you, and what relevant background and skills you have. Use the second paragraph to tell the faculty member why you have chosen her/him as a potential mentor: what you know about them (including papers of theirs you have read, times you have heard them speak, and performances you have seen them give), what they have done that interests you, and what you hope to get out of working with them. In the third paragraph, express your desire to meet with the faculty member and list your availability for the next several weeks. We have prepared a sample e-mail you can use as a guide; be sure to personalize it to highlight your own interests, strengths and weaknesses.

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Expectations & Commitment

When you meet a potential faculty mentor in person, be on time, dress properly, answer questions honestly, and be prepared to ask questions in turn. Consider taking a copy of your resume for their reference; while this is not required, it shows that you are well prepared. Be sure to thank them for their time.

It is important to learn as much as possible about a potential mentor/mentee relationship beforehand; it can reduce the number of surprises you might experience later. Consider asking some or all of these questions:

  • What will be my specific responsibilities?
  • Who will be my direct supervisor?
  • How many hours will I be expected to devote to research per week?
  • Is this a group or individual project?
  • Will I get academic credit? If so, what is expected for me to earn an “A”?
  • Are there additional materials I should read or classes I should take to better prepare me for the research?
It is between you and the faculty member to decide if your interests match for a research or creative project.

It is important to ask your faculty mentor how much time you will be expected to spend on research. Be honest and realistic with your commitments, taking into consideration your coursework, employment, and leisure activities. Consider also that most research projects range from two quarters to several years in duration. Find a research opportunity that complements your interests and time schedule without overextending your capabilities. If you have a low GPA, we encourage you to focus on improving your grades before getting involved with research.

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Computer proficiency is an important skill in performing research, and you should be able to use a computer and the Internet to perform a number of basic tasks. You must have an e‑mail account; if you do not, go to the Office of Information Technology Web site to establish a free account using your UCI student ID. In addition, the Internet is a valuable research tool; it contains vast amounts of information that can help your research, and it can provide you with current information on relevant topics, programs, and organizations.

To document your research, you should be proficient with a word processing program, such as Word, and possibly a spreadsheet program, such as Excel. These will help you record your data and findings in an organized manner, and will be valuable tools when you are ready to publish the results of your research.

To help you present your research, you should be familiar with presentation software, such as PowerPoint. Thoughtfully designed PowerPoint slides, along with a confident speaking style, can make your presentations dynamic and memorable.

Depending on your field of research or creative work, there may be additional programs you should learn; ask your faculty mentor for recommendations.

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Funding is available for faculty-mentored undergraduate research projects and creative activities both on and off campus. On-campus financial support for undergraduate research is provided through UROP, which offers two types of funding.

UROP offers grants to help students offset the costs of research-related supplies, materials and expenses through separate Calls for Proposals in the Fall and Spring. These Calls fund a variety of projects, with grants normally less than $1,000 for individual projects, although higher amounts can be awarded for group projects.

Several summer programs offer students a stipend to support the time and effort they put into research. The Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) provides funding for undergraduates who are conducting summer research projects or creative activities under the guidance of UCI faculty members. The Inter-Disciplinary Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (ID-SURE) provides funding for continuing UCI undergraduates from all disciplines who are conducting interdisciplinary summer research projects or creative activities related to health promotion and disease prevention under the guidance of UCI faculty members. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship on the Internet of Things (SURF-IoT) provides the opportunity for non-graduating UCI juniors and seniors to become involved in research on the Internet of Things under the guidance of UCI faculty mentors. The Edwards Lifesciences Summer Undergraduate Research Program (E-SURP) provides funding for UCI undergraduates who are conducting summer research projects under the guidance of UCI faculty mentors who are associated with the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology. The Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (Chem-SURF), formerly co-sponsored by UROP, offers undergraduates from UCI and around the country the opportunity to perform research under UCI faculty mentors in chemistry and chemistry-related fields.

During the school year, UROP also sponsors the Multidisciplinary Design Program (MDP), which engages UCI undergraduates from all disciplines in design teams co-sponsored by at least two faculty mentors from different schools.

Additionally, many off-campus programs offer students travel allowances, room and board, and/or stipends. The amount of support varies for each program and student.

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Research Proposal

Your research proposal is primarily a request for recognition and funding of a particular project. It typically includes a topic or thesis statement, background or introductory information, the objective or significance of your research, methods or expected results, a timeline for the project, references, and an itemized budget (UROP proposals only).

Proposals for UROP, SURP, E-SURP, and ID-SURE grants require a letter of support from your faculty mentor and a personal statement from you. Projects involving human or live animal research may also require IRB or IACUC approval, respectively; proposals will not be approved unless required IRB or IACUC applications have been submitted. Proposals are evaluated based on the intellectual merit of the student’s research, a complete application, level of support from the faculty mentor, the student’s transcript, and available funding. In addition to presenting workshops on how to write a proposal, UROP publishes Proposal Guidelines (PDF) and offers a number of sample proposals similar to ones that have been accepted for funding in the past.

Only proposals for UROP grants need to include an itemized budget; SURP, E-SURP, and ID-SURE stipends are awarded to students for their time and effort, not for purchases. Items that can be covered by a UROP grant include chemicals, supplies, reference materials, animals, mailing, copying/printing, communication (phone calls/postage/faxing), mileage, software, compensation for human subjects, travel, presentation materials, rental of facilities, or any other related costs. Items that are NOT covered include major hardware purchases, salaries and stipends, travel expenditures only, or items that can be borrowed or rented at a much lower cost. See the Proposal Guidelines (for UROP, SURP, E-SURP and ID-SURE) for more information, and browse through the sample proposals (for UROP and for SURP, E-SURP, and ID-SURE) for examples.

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Personal Statements

Faculty members and research organizations may ask for a personal statement describing your background and interest in working with them. If a maximum/minimum number of words or pages is not specified, the general rule for a personal statement is two pages, double-spaced. Make sure you provide details and solid evidence of your achievements and strengths. Customize your personal statement to the specific program for which you are applying. Discuss relevant courses you have completed, applicable previous work or research experience, volunteer or extracurricular activities that are related to the project, and any relevant awards or honors you may have received.

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Letters of Recommendation

You will typically be asked to provide letters of recommendation or references when applying for a research fellowship or position. Letters from faculty are preferred, but letters from administrators, employers, and graduate students can be used in some cases. Give the person who is writing your recommendation a clear deadline; be sure to provide them ample time to prepare the letter (advance notice of several weeks is often a good idea when requesting letters from faculty). You may also request permission to copy letters of recommendation for future use. If you are asking them to mail the letter directly, which some programs or fellowships require, you should provide them an addressed, stamped envelope. Remember to send thank you notes not only to the writers of your letters of recommendation, but also to others who have helped in the process, including mentors and granting committees.

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It is very important to have your resume ready and updated at all times, regardless of your discipline. Many programs and professors ask for resumes before considering students for research positions. The UCI Career Center provides workshops and guides on how to prepare a resume. You may also contact the UROP Office for help.

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Networking is a valuable and necessary tool that can help open many doors for you both academically and professionally. It is important to begin networking early in your academic career to develop contacts and help you define your areas of interest. Talk to faculty members, administrators, students, and visitors whenever possible, and meet and interact with each professor from your classes. Be prepared to articulate your own ideas in a concise and intelligent manner. The annual UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium, held each May, is an excellent opportunity to meet many faculty members and other undergraduate researchers.

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Research Conduct

It is extremely important to adhere to university research conduct rules and demonstrate the highest ethical standards. As members of the University community, students engaged in research are not to fabricate data or results; change or knowingly omit data or results to misrepresent results in the research record; or intentionally misappropriate the ideas, writings, research, or findings of others. Most research studies that involve human subjects or animals require institutional approval through IRB or IACUC, respectively, before the start of the project.

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Keeping Records

Document all of your information in an organized manner. You may want to keep a working file of your sources, references and contacts. Keep copies of all applications, correspondence, reports, and proposals that you submit. You may need to refer to them in the future.

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Health & Safety

All research must be conducted according to university safety rules. Students conducting research often use equipment, materials or energy that may be hazardous to their health, safety or the environment. You need to have your own medical insurance and must discuss with your faculty supervisor the safety rules that govern their specific laboratory or project. Educate yourself about general safety guidelines, and important research conduct regulations and policies for research conducted with human or live animal subjects.

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Presentation Skills

It is important to be able to present effectively what you have researched. We encourage you to attend symposia and conferences, both as a presenter and an attendee, to stay abreast of developments in your area of study. UCI offers the opportunity for undergraduates to present their research at the annual UCI Undergraduate Research Symposium, which is held each May. Students may present in a variety of formats, including orally (which also includes performances) or through a poster or display. The Symposium Call for Abstracts is announced to all faculty and undergraduates in the Winter Quarter of every year, and abstracts are due approximately one month before the Symposium. UROP encourages all undergraduates involved in research to attend and participate in this event. In addition to offering detailed Symposium Presentation Guidelines (PDF), UROP conducts workshops on presentation techniques prior to the Symposium.

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Writing Skills

You must be able to think critically and formulate a well-researched and clearly organized paper on your research. We encourage you to submit a paper for possible publication in The UCI Undergraduate Research Journal, which is published annually and accepts papers from UCI undergraduates in any discipline who have conducted research with a UCI faculty mentor. The Call for Papers is announced to all faculty and undergraduates early in Spring Quarter of every year, and the submission deadline is usually at the beginning of July. UROP offers Paper Submission Guidelines (PDF) to help you in writing and submitting your paper to the Journal.

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