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Getting Involved in UG Research

What is undergraduate research?
 
The KU Chemistry Department has a long and successful history of promoting undergraduate research, and this page is designed to help you forge your own research journey.
 
The American Chemical Society provides an excellent overview of undergraduate research, with information ranging from the educational value of research experiences to tips on identifying potential mentors.  We recommend you start your journey there.
 
Who benefits from undergraduate research?
 
You may be thinking that participation in research only benefits students who are planning to pursue a PhD and become a professor.  The fact is that research involvement also benefits students who plan to directly enter the chemistry workforce with a BS or BA degree.  You can think of it as an "in-house" internship opportunity that will help develop skills that will make you more competitive for jobs after graduation. 
 
You might also be surprised to learn that, according to our own majors, participating in research improves performance in upper division coursework by putting the often esoteric concepts into a more meaningful context.  This means that the earlier you get involved, the more you stand to benefit! 
 
Do I need to come up with my own research project?
 
No!  This is the responsibility of the research mentor, who will work with you to take an area of active research in their lab and make it a project for you to tackle.  
 
Exploring research areas at KU
 
You’ll start learning about undergraduate research opportunities at KU as early as your first semester, in the required seminar course CHEM 180. The course gives you the opportunity to hear research presentations by faculty, and about research experiences by fellow chemistry majors. 
 
But you can start exploring the possibilities on your own at any time.  We recommend that you begin by browsing the various KU Chemistry faculty research areas.  One thing you’ll notice right away is that these include not only the four classic areas of organic, inorganic, analytical and physical chemistry, but quite a few interdisciplinary areas as well.  And many Chemistry faculty names appear under more than one area!  Many faculty maintain research group websites, and this is another way to start your exploration. 
 
When considering potential research labs you might join, don’t be concerned if projects that grab your attention involve subjects you haven’t yet learned about in coursework.  There’s no better way to learn about something than by doing it, and our faculty always welcome the opportunity to provide this kind of individualized instruction.  Also, don’t limit your options to just one or two labs.  You may find that your initial top choice doesn’t work out, maybe because there isn’t a spot available or you find that it just isn’t a good personal fit for you.
 
You can also complete the online Undergraduate Research Interest Webform to give us a better idea of your research interests. 
 
Finding the best mentoring situation for you
 
The next step is to start meeting with potential faculty mentors.  Sending each professor an email message requesting an interview is a typical approach.  If you don’t hear back after a couple of days, try again.  Faculty get dozens of emails daily, and your message might get lost in the jumble.  Office hour visits to inquire about about research is another useful approach, especially if the potential mentor is one of your instructors (consult the course syllabus). 
 
If you are offered a position in a research lab, don’t accept until you’ve had a chance to meet with the research group members, as they are the folks you will be interacting with most often.  In fact, one of the research group members will be assigned as your in-lab mentor, and will guide your efforts until you have achieved independence.  You should know who this individual will be prior to joining a group, and you should spend one or two days “shadowing” that person in the lab.  It would also be beneficial to attend a research group meeting before joining, to learn more about group dynamics.
 
More things to do or consider before you can begin lab work
 
First, you have to have appropriate safety and ethics training
 
Second, you need to determine which situation is best for you:
 
a. Enroll in research for credit
 
b. Work as a paid employee through the KU Emerging Scholars Program or a faculty research grant. Although a relatively rare situation, some students can get paid for their research efforts through a faculty research grant, or other means through the program. If you are receiving a paycheck for your research activities, be aware that you cannot receive academic credit for the same work.
 
c. Work as an upaid volunteer. This may be the best way for some students to learn whether research is right for them, without the concern that the venture could adversely affect their academic standing. Or it may be he optimal situation for students who don't need any more research credit hours but want to continue working on projects. Whatever the reason, all students in this category must complete a volunteer form each semester and submit it to Betsy Carlson. Please be aware that you cannot get paid AND receive academic credit for the same work. 
 

Chemistry department receives more than $8.5 million in research grants annually
14 chemistry faculty members have NSF CAREER Awards
Longest-running chemistry Research Experience for Undergraduates in the nation
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