One of the common questions asked by undergrad Gauchos of all years and all majors – “how can I find research opportunities?” Despite the fact that this question has been asked many times, there are many ways to find a research position or opportunity that fits one’s interests. A common myth about research is that research is exclusively for “science people,” when in fact, research can be done in any academic disciplines. This is because research, per se, is how knowledge is created!
Before one dives into the process of searching for his/her dream research position, it is crucial, and highly recommended, that the student identifies his/her interested field as well as type of position. Research can be done in almost any subjects and one’s major does not have to dictate what kind of research he/she can do. There are many ways to help a person find out what topics interest you, including some self-assessments. Try to think back to any classes you have taken in the past that interested you. Talk to others, including professors and peers who have been involved in research, to learn more about what kind of research they are doing and what it is like to be part of the research community on campus. Professors and TAs are helpful when it comes to helping a person identify not only his/her interests but also connections as to who is doing that particular kind of research.
Although there are many different types of research available, the two main “forms” are joining an existing project or creating one’s own project. The following are a couple resources to help a person get started with finding a research position after identifying his/her interests. The UCSB FRAP (Faculty Research Assistance Program) website (http://www.duels.ucsb.edu/research/frap/directory) contains a directory that has listings of UCSB professors that are currently looking for undergrad students to join their research project. On the other hand, if a student is interested in applying for funding for his/her own project, UCSB URCA (Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, http://www.duels.ucsb.edu/research/urca) provides a student with a maximum funding of $750 per project. URCA application typically begins early October and ends early November. Participants also would have the opportunity to present his/her work at the Undergraduate Research Colloquium which is usually held in May.
There are many other ways to “distinguish” different types of research. For instance, research can be different for an undergrad doing it in summer versus during the school year. During the school year, classes take up most of the time, which often results in less time for extracurricular activities, including research (~5-10 hours/week). On the other hand, summer research typically can be done as a full-time position, given that there are less commitments. There are many summer research programs that allow students to immerse in research for several weeks. Usually these programs have workshops and seminars that further provide students with valuable research experiences in addition to the research itself.
Many people might think it is a bit intimidating to approach a professor to talk about research and potential opportunities to join a lab or a project. Professors are actually glad that someone is interested in their research and would even want to chat about it in person! After all, professors are people who are highly interested in both teaching and doing research. Still, it might be beneficial to think of a meeting with a professors as an interview, but an informal one. Being prepared and persistent is key. Professors all have busy schedule and sometimes it is not uncommon to miss reading one email among hundreds of others. Don’t be discouraged and be persistent (but not disturbingly). Being prepared means you already know about what kind of research the faculty member is doing. This includes researching his/her website, reading some important papers and having some good questions prepared. Good questions can be any questions that was formulated after some thought process, such as potential further research idea after reading a journal article the faculty published. The absolute, most important thing, however, is the passion and curiosity. If a person is truly passionate about a particular subject, level of preparedness and persistence would never be a question!
Finally, the arts of research, from identifying interest areas to being a successful researcher, cannot be easily written in several paragraphs. However, along with a sincere interest and willingness to ask for help (professors, TAs, peers, UCSB academic departments, Office of Research, Career Services, CSEP, etc.), one should be able to find the research position that he/she would truly enjoy!