Undergraduate Research FAQ
Undergraduate research and artistry programs at NIU allow you to explore the unknown through hands-on work with faculty members. Inquire about questions that interest you, work with a faculty mentor and build a foundation for professional or graduate work. You may do undergraduate research in your major or another field of interest. Undergraduate research encompasses arts, humanities, social science and physical science.
You do not have to be a science major to participate in undergraduate research. Many students each year do undergraduate research in the social sciences, fine and performing arts, business, humanities, etc. Almost every discipline has undergraduate research opportunities.
You do not need to wait until you are an upper division student to participate in research. Many freshmen begin working with faculty mentors by performing support work as volunteers or earning a stipend through Research Rookies program designed specifically for freshmen and sophomores.
You do not have to do research with a faculty mentor in your major –– you can do undergraduate research in virtually every academic discipline at NIU. For example, if you are a psychology major, you can do research with a sociology or marketing professor, or if you are a biology major, you can do research with faculty in engineering, geology or anthropology.
Undergraduate research is generally not a requirement for admission to graduate or professional school. However, it is one aspect of your application that can demonstrate your intellectual abilities, academic engagement, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Put your energy and enthusiasm into undergraduate research that reflects your interests and passions.
You can get involved with undergraduate research any time throughout a semester, especially if you volunteer. Typically, faculty mentors look for students at the beginning of a new semester. Additionally, if you want to apply for a funded program, you need to have a faculty mentor and research proposal by the application deadline, which is dependent on the specific program. To participate in programs over the summer or in the fall, you want to start the process very early in the spring semester or earlier. If you would like to conduct your research during the spring semester you would want to start contacting your potential faculty mentor early during fall semester.
One way to get started in research is to identify some topics, ideas, or activities that interest you.
- What have been some of your favorite classes? What about these classes interested you?
- What would you like to learn more about?
- What types of research have you done in previous classes? What did you like about this research, and what didn't you like?
- What kinds of skills and knowledge would you like to develop, either for personal fulfillment or for a future career?
After you have some ideas, there are several ways to find a faculty mentor.
- Review the faculty profiles on your department's website to gain a sense of each faculty member's research interests. Make a short list of a few faculty whose research interests you.
- Don't limit yourself to finding a research mentor in the department that matches your major.
- Before you contact a research mentor, do your homework. Read about their research on their website and look up a couple of their publications so you can appear knowledgeable when you talk to that person.
- Contact a potential mentor. Tips for success:
- Be professional. Write your email and conduct your conversation in a respectful tone, particularly if you have not worked with this person before.
- Be able to articulate why you are interested in research and what you'd like to learn.
- Discuss your general research interests as well as the more practical aspects, such as how much time both you and the mentor expect to devote to your research.
- Be brief. Faculty members receive many emails so be aware that a short paragraph is much more likely to be read than a two page email.
All of the programs offered through OSEEL compensate and fund student researchers. There are sometimes opportunities for undergraduate researchers to be paid by a faculty mentor. However, often to receive an undergraduate research experience, you only need to find a willing mentor and work out an arrangement with them. Many undergraduate researchers volunteer.
- Don't get discouraged if the first research idea that you have doesn't pan out. Be persistent and you'll be able to find a good mentor and research opportunity. Remember that staff at the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning are here to help you! Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 815-753-8154.
- Be willing to start at the bottom and take advantage of what opportunities that are available to you. You might start out doing a research task that is repetitive, but you'll be able to move up to more complicated research procedures as you gain experience.