The key to undergraduate research is finding a professor or faculty member who will assist you. To find the best mentor, follow three steps: 1) identify your potential mentors, 2) learn about their background and interests and 3) contact your best prospects.
To identify potential mentors, check out who's available on your campus. Start by seeking information and advice from teachers whose courses you've enjoyed. Attend lectures in areas that interest you. Check departmental Web sites for faculty research interests and publications. Find out which faculty members have supervised undergraduate research in the past. Teaching assistants can be great sources of information.
Once you've assembled a list of potential resources, learn something about the faculty member's area of interest. This will help you ask intelligent questions and justify why you have come to this particular person.
Your next step is to contact potential mentors. "The best way to do this is to knock on doors and talk to professors," Justin says. "Professors love talking about their own research." Remember to be persistent. "Even if you swing and miss the first time, you shouldn't be afraid to go right down the hallway and find someone else," Justin says.
Funding for undergraduate research can be tricky, but it's not impossible. Organizations like the Council on Undergraduate Research help undergraduate students in all settings of science, mathematics, and engineering education find funding for research. Your professors or department heads can also be good resources.
One you've found a project, talk to the department head about getting credit for your work. There may be an official program that covers undergraduate research. Or you might need to set up an independent study. You might even use it as work-study or as part of a grant that either you or a professor has won.
Keep in mind that earning an "A" for your independent study doesn't mean your research has to be successful from initiation to publishable conclusion. "Your final grade is based more on how you work through the data on the research, and how you interpret your research," Justin says.
Research can enhance your undergraduate experience by allowing you to take the skills you have learned and apply them to real situations. No matter where your academic interests lie, undergraduate research is well worth considering.