Identifying an undergraduate research mentor can be
a bit intimidating. In many ways, it is similar to a job interview,
or to selecting a graduate research mentor. The suggestions below
should help you arrange a supervised research experience beginning
at any time. If you are applying to the SURE program, we strongly
encourage that you begin this process a.s.a.p., as your mentor-approved
research proposal needs to be submitted in February.
If you are seeking a faculty mentor for doing research
for credit, or need additional information on finding a senior thesis
advisor, contact your department's undergraduate research coordinator:
And of course, you can directly review our undergraduate
research mentor listing. We are working on a new mentor database that will go live in early 2013 on our new website.
To view a list of research programs available to Emory students
(both paid and for-credit), click here.
1. Research the possibilities: What areas of
research interest you? It is likely that you have a few topics that
truly catch your attention. Use the local media, library, and the
web to seek additional information. Talk to your academic advisor
and to your instructors for suggestions. It is very likely that
one or more researchers in the Atlanta area are currently working
on topics that you enjoy. Friends and classmates may also be able
to suggest faculty members that have a reputation for being good
research mentors. If you have work-study funds, you can try to find
work at a laboratory of interest (this can be particularly useful
to 1st year students, who often have trouble finding research mentors
due to their somewhat limited academic background).
2. Narrow down your search: Once you have some
likely mentors in mind, you will need to contact them to determine
whether they are available for mentoring undergraduate researchers.
Faculty are usually limited in time and resources, and you want
to determine availability as soon as possible. Call or e-mail the
researcher, and explain that you are interested in applying to our
program. Volunteer to forward program materials to them (don't assume
they know about the SURE program ), and set up an appointment to
discuss the possibility of a collaboration. Do not be discouraged
if you receive no reply: it is possible this researcher is out of
town or busy with a grant deadline. Try someone else in your list.
There is nothing wrong with approaching more than one potential
mentor simultaneously. Your goal is to find a great mentor and research
environment, and shopping around IS allowed. If you end up with
more than one offer, decide which one you will explore, and decline
the other offer with many thanks. This way, the researcher that
you turn down will be able to recruit other students, and the phrase
"flaky student that came by, acted all excited, then disappeared..."
won't be associated with your person.
3. Prepare for the interview: The kindness
of their heart aside, why should this busy stranger agree to mentor
your research? The answer is simple: you would be an asset to their
lab. As an undergraduate, you are not expected to be a fully trained
expert; however, you should have a general idea (the more detailed,
the better) of what this researcher's work entails. Prepare for
the interview. Bring a list of questions to ask, such as what kinds
of projects might be available for you to work on, and whether this
faculty has mentored other undergraduates. Discuss your interest
in continuing this collaboration during the academic year. Take
notes. Discuss how this experience is important to your future career
plans. If possible, indicate a project in which you would like to
be involved (whether that is a project already in progress, or a
project you devised your own). Discuss compensation: are you
looking for a paid position, a work-study position, do you wish
to volunteer, or are you interested in doing research for credit?
Regarding funding, ask whether the faculty's grants may support
undergraduate research. [NSF grants allow for supplements for all
students, and NIH grants allow for supplements to support minorities.
If your chosen researcher is unaware of these possibilities, refer
them to the SURE web page, under Information
for Mentors]. Bring a transcript of your coursework, should you
need to discuss your academic background. You want to appear informed,
prepared, and eager to learn and work.
4. Follow up on the interview: Make time to
call or send a note thanking the researcher for meeting with you.
A short e-mail will do. If the researcher is unable to offer you
his/her support, do not be discouraged. Think of this interview
as good practice for the next one. If the interview leads to an
offer to collaborate, set up a time to further discuss the project,
and ask for materials or references to help you prepare.
5. Details, details: Find out as much as you
can about the project and the research environment before you accept
to participate. Discuss issues such as how many hours/week can you
devote to the project (and is this in agreement with your research
mentor's expectations)? Who will supervise you (and are you comfortable
with this arrangement)? How often will you meet with your faculty
advisor (or will you mostly interact with another laboratory member;
is the arrangement acceptable to you)? How will your performance
be evaluated? What skills will your project require and if you need
training, when can this training begin? Discuss whether you need
training in lab safety, use of radioisotopes, animal handling, or
whether you need any tests/vaccinations. What is the laboratory
protocol for notebook keeping? Will you be working in a project
that might lead to a publication?
The above questions are offered as a starting point.
In our experience, most misunderstandings between students and mentors
stem from a lack of clear expectations on these issues.
See Emory's Guidelines
for the Responsible Conduct of Scholarship and Research for
a primer on the rights and responsibilities of individuals involved
in academic research. We strongly encourage all students interested
in research to explore their sponsoring institution's Guidelines.
6. Get to work!: For students that will use
the SURE program to begin a research collaboration, it is important
to invest in the project before the program actually begins. Only
then will your have enough time to prepare a competitive proposal.
Remember: applications are due in mid-February. Locating a faculty
mentor and perfecting your proposal will take time, and you will
be busy with your Fall and Spring coursework and winter break; faculty
may be attending meetings.