There are many research opportunities for undergraduates at UCSC, but unfortunately not enough for every student who is interested. You will need to be dedicated and focused to find and keep a position. The advice below can help you, but does not guarantee that you will get into a lab or research group.
To find out additional information for your field of study, go to the webpage for the division/school:
are available on:
- Preparing for Undergraduate Research at UCSC
- Getting Involved in Undergraduate Research
- Secrets of STEM Research Groups- Structure, Function, & Dynamics
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Why should I work with a research group?
- When should I start?
- How do I find a research group to join?
- Can I contact a professor I haven't taken a class from?
- I've identified several professors whose work I find interesting. What do I do now?
- How should I contact the professor?
- What should I say or write to the professor?
- I have an appointment to meet the professor. What should I bring? How should I dress?
Why should I work with a research group?
UCSC is a research university. Working with an active research group will give you the chance to participate fully in the university community and engage in the practice of your discipline. It will also provide an invaluable complement to your coursework. While textbooks often present science as a series of topics and facts, in a research group you will participate in the activity of science, where answers to questions are not known, you build on the work of others, and collaborate with many people to formulate questions, design experiments, gather and interpret data, and present the results for peer review and feedback.
You should start contacting professors about opportunities as early as possible. You should meet with professors who are doing research you find interesting and ask what you can do to prepare to be involved in UR. Each professor has different requirements for student researchers, and you need to know so you can prepare. In addition, often research groups are full, but if a professor knows you are interested, it can help get you a position later on.
If a lab or research group is currently full, ask if there is a group or lab meeting you can attend. You will learn more about the group's research and will be in an excellent position when there is an opening for an undergraduate with the group. You can also ask to shadow a graduate student for a day or, if appropriate, ask to go into the field with group members and help with data collection.
In addition, you may find your interests change over time and that you would like to work in more than one lab or with more than one research group as an undergraduate.
Consider what subject(s) fascinate you. Was there a class or seminar or paper you kept talking about to your friends and family?
Look at the research information for your division.
- Engineering- Research Groups
- Humanities- Centers and Projects
- Physical & Biological Sciences- Research Programs
- Social Sciences- Research Centers and Facilities
Look at departments' webpages that list faculty research subjects. Does the professor list undergraduates as research group members and/or encourage students to contact him or her?
Check SlugQuest and the Employee Request System through the Career Center. Some positions are advertised there.
Attend seminars to learn about research in your department and to network.
You should also talk to other undergraduate and graduate students who are involved in research. You can often find email addresses on the research group webpage or at the Campus Directory. Ask them who they work or worked with and how they got involved. It may help your chances of getting a position if you a graduate student or undergraduate who has been with the group for a long time is willing to give you a verbal or written reference.
Take advantage of any advising opportunities in your department. Does the academic adviser know of professors who are looking for undergraduate researchers or who are very receptive to undergraduates approaching them?
Yes! It is a great idea to start looking for an opportunity by talking to your current and past professors, but you can contact any professor who is doing research that interests you. Of course, before you contact the professor make sure that you read his or her webpage, get an overview of the research, and prepare questions to ask.
The next step is to learn more about each research group.
- What are the research topics and what methods are used to do the research? You should review the web site carefully and read recent papers the group has produced. If the papers are difficult for you to understand, write down questions you can ask.
- If you haven't yet, talk to other members of the group, especially any undergraduates who work there. Ask them how they approached the professor and what the culture of the research group is like. Every lab or research group has its own culture and group dynamics. For example, are undergraduates given independent projects? Do they work for credit, get paid, or volunteer? Is the professor the primary mentor or do the undergraduates usually work with graduate students?
Once you have done the background work, you are ready to contact the professor.
You can go to office hours, send an email, or talk to the professor after a class or a talk. There are several critical points to remember:
Be formal with a professor until you are invited to be more casual.
- Address him or her in writing and in person as Professor or Doctor until you are asked to be less formal.
- Write professional emails (see the examples). Don't use emoticons, slang, abbreviations, or casual cultural references. Make sure the spelling and grammar are correct.
- Don't mass-email the entire department. If you are interested in the work multiple professors are doing, email each one individually and tailor the email to that specific research group's work.
Professors are busy. If you approach them in person, ask if this is a convenient time and be prepared to make an appointment. If you email, it may take a while for the professor to reply.
You should reply to any professor's email with 48 hours, even if the professor took much longer to reply to you.
Be brief. You need to get to the point, show that you have done your research, and be enthusiastic.
- If applicable, mention how you met or heard about the professor.
- Explain why research is important to you and your goals.
- Discuss what is interesting to you about the professor's research and explain why you want to work specifically with that professor or research group. Mention papers you have read. If the papers were too advanced for you to understand, that is fine. Be prepared with specific questions.
- Show that you are prepared by mentioning relevant classes that you have done well in and that you have talked with other undergraduates already involved in research.
- Demonstrate that you understand the level of commitment required by explaining that you have the time in your schedule (often 10-15 hours a week) and can be involved for a specific length of time. Many researchers want you to commit to working in the lab for at least a year because training a new lab member is a significant investment of time and effort.
- Ask to schedule a meeting.
Treat the meeting like an interview- the professor likely has many students interested in joining the research group.
Be on time! Otherwise, the professor will not be interested in making other appointments with you.
Bring a brief statement of your interests, an up-to-date resume or CV, and an unofficial transcript. Be prepared to provide names and emails of academic references. (Tips for preparing a CV or resume can be found at the Stem Diversity Resource website and at the Career Center website).
Be prepared to describe why you want to work with the group and what your goals are. The professor is much more likely to be interested in having you work with the group if you are genuinely interested in the subject and are not just looking to improve your resume.
Be prepared to address in detail any of the points mentioned above in What should I say or write to the professor?
Be as well dressed or better dressed than the professor. Expectations vary widely between fields and research groups, and this is where your background research can really help.
Be prepared with questions. For example:
- What type of projects are available?
- Who would be your mentor?
- Are there group meetings you could attend?
- What projects are other undergraduates in the research group working on?
- Is there the potential to do an independent project and/or get academic credit?
- How many hours would you be expected to work?
- What would your responsibilities be?
- Have undergraduates attended or presented at conferences or workshops?
- Is there the potential for paid employment at some time?
After the meeting, send the professor a formal email thanking him or her for taking the time to meet with you and expressing your continued interest.
If a lab or research group is currently full, ask if there is a group or lab meeting you can attend. You will learn more about the group's research and will be in an excellent position when there is an opening for an undergraduate student.