The University of Illinois is one of the world's leading research-intensive universities with a long and rich history of scholarship, discovery, and innovation. Research at Illinois is diverse and ranges from the humanities and arts to biology and engineering. Undergraduate research opportunities can come in the form of:
- structured research methods or project-based research courses;
- programs sponsored by colleges, school, or departments;
- guided assistantship or independent study under mentorship of faculty, graduate students, or research staff.
Now is the right time to start your undergraduate research journey! We encourage students to start as soon as they are ready. Some students start their research careers as Freshman or Sophomores, while others wait until their Junior or Senior year. Think through why you want to do research, how much time you have available each semester to commit, and how you are going to make the most of this experience.
The Office of Undergraduate Research is here to support you throughout your research journey! For help starting your research journey, be sure to attend one of our Getting Started in Undergraduate Research Workshops, consider scheduling a meeting with an ambassador or member of our staff, and follow our 10-steps to getting started below:
Reflect on how a research experience will benefit you and your academic journey at Illinois and beyond. Use research to explore your interests, deepen your knowledge, develop transferable skills, network with research colleagues, and contribute to a field (to name a few).
Be proactive and develop a plan. When will you begin? How much time will you devote – a few semesters or more? How will you make room for research in your schedule? Remember, research takes time. Work with your academic advisor on developing a balanced course load.
Broadly speaking, what interests you? Post-colonial South Asian literature? Climate change in the Arctic? Arts-based community development? The rise of Big Data? Learning behaviors in infants? Some combination of these? Students often have many interests, including topics that lie outside their major, and that’s okay! Make a list and rank your interests in order of preference.
Illinois is a public research university with a history of creativity and innovation. Research is everywhere! Now that you’ve identified your interests, find out what programs, internships, or research projects align with those interests. Look through college and departmental webpages, talk to your undergraduate advisor, ask a professor or graduate student, or talk to a friend doing research to identify programs and units.
Undergraduate research is an apprenticeship and requires an effective and supportive mentor. Mentors can be faculty, post-doctoral researchers, research staff, or graduate students. Do your research and find a mentor whose research interests you. To find a mentor: look for research descriptions on departmental webpages; do a keyword search on Illinois Experts to find names of mentors; and leverage your network and enlist friends, professors, and TAs, to aid you in your search.
How does this prospective mentor's research align with your values, interests, and goals? Be sure to reference answers to #1, #2, and #3, above during your reflection. What appeals to you and excites you about their research? What skills and experiences might you gain? Write down these answers - you will use this information when initiating contact.
Invest time into crafting a personalized email. Include your interests, goals, and ambitions. Reference the information you gathered in #6. Include your major, relevant courses, year in school, any training or skills you might have. Be clear about what you’re looking for: internship? Assistantship? Independent project? Finally, be concise: no more than 300 words or so. PRO TIP: Read and reference their recent scholarship (articles, books, news releases).
Haven’t heard back? Relax; faculty, etc., are busy! Be courteous, polite, professional, and persistent to demonstrate your interest in their research and respect for their time. Usually, you should wait at least 7 days before sending a followup. PRO TIP: Persistence doesn’t mean every day; following up too early or frequently can be a bother.
Have an interview? Be prepared! Revisit your notes. Prepare a (short) list of questions. Be a few minutes early and bring your resume. Be ready to share why you’d like to work with them. Bring your schedule and be prepared to discuss your weekly availability.
Within 12 hours, send a brief “thank you” email. This will further demonstrate your interest and will also show that you respect and are thankful for their time.