Why participate in undergraduate research?

The main reason for participating in undergraduate research is for the excitement and satisfaction of taking new ideas, making them work, and discovering something that was not known before. That is the essence of chemistry and of science in general.

There are also practical reasons to begin research early in your career. First, it helps you become familiar with the nature of chemical research work so that you can decide if this type of career appeals to you. Laboratory research is quite different from the set‑piece experiments that you deal with in a teaching laboratory. In addition, research experience is often helpful when applying for a job or graduate school, as it shows experience with independent work. It also provides a source for a letter of reference from a faculty member who will be more familiar with your abilities than most course instructors.

How can a student get involved?

Talk to the faculty. If there is a type of chemistry that you would like to explore, talk to the faculty who have interests in that area, even if you never had them in class. Faculty interests are described on the Departmental web page, under Faculty and Research. All faculty members are more than willing to discuss research opportunities with students.

What are the types of involvement?

You can participate in research in several ways. All are possible during the academic year and during the summer. You may have different types of involvement at different times.

  • Undergraduate Research, CHEM-2950, can be taken for credit (1 to 4 credits) as often as you like. These credits can be used as free electives in the 128 credit hours needed for graduation in Chemistry.
  • Special Projects in Chemistry, CHEM-2940, is similar to CHEM-2950 but is intended for projects that are not experiment‑based. There are limits to the number of credits that can be applied to the degree.
  • Senior Experience, CHEM-4950, is a required culminating experience that involves a research-related activity of some kind. Students who have undertaken a project previously can use an extension of that work to satisfy this requirement.
  • Advanced Research Project, CHEM-4970, is similar to CHEM-2950 but at a more advanced level for students with previous research experience.
  • Undergraduate Research Participation (URP) is a program supported by the Dean of the Undergraduate College that may provide financial support for participating in research. Applications are submitted each semester; first discuss a project with an advisor. Forms are available in the Chemistry office, 116 Cogswell.
  • Support from research grants. Many faculty have government or industrial funds to support their research that they can use to pay an undergraduate.
  • Senior Thesis. CHEM-4990, is a year‑long research activity covering the senior year, and culminating in a written thesis. It can be done in the Fall and Spring semesters of the senior year or the Spring of the junior and Fall of the senior years. To register for senior thesis, first establish a project by discussion with a faculty member who will agree to be your advisor. This is best done at the time of registration in semester preceding your start, although it can be added later.
  • Informal participation, involving no credit and no pay, can be arranged by talking to a faculty member. Some students do this solely because of interest.
  • Fellowship Awards – the George G. Janz Award for Undergraduate Research in Physical Chemistry, and the Arthur G. Schultz Award for Undergraduate Research in Organic Chemistry are given to undergraduate research participants who show exceptional promise; students must be nominated by their research advisor.

What commitment is required?

The amount of time you will be expected to spend on your research will depend on the extent to which you wish to participate (number of credit hours, number of hours paid) and should be discussed with your research advisor when you begin. Most faculty will expect reasonably regular attendance in lab for at least one or sometimes two semesters in order to make the experience worth­while. Many students work with the same faculty member for two, three, or even four years, and become extremely knowledgeable in their research area. Others may work for two or three advisors at different times to get a broad experience in a variety of areas. However, if after one or two semesters you find that research does not interest you, you are under no obligation to continue to participate.

Awards and recognition

The George J. Janz and the Arthur G Schultz awards support undergraduate research in the areas of Physical and Organic chemistry. They are given to undergraduates at any level who have shown exceptional promise for research, and carry a summer stipend plus support to attend a scientific meeting. The William Pitt Mason Prize is given at graduation to an outstanding senior in Chemistry; a major criterion for this award is presentation of a senior thesis. The Class of ’02 Research Prize is an Institute-wide prize given at graduation for the best senior thesis.