Steps for Getting Started as an Undergraduate Research Intern

Step 1: Define your research interests

Ask the following questions:

  • Which subject areas most interest you?
  • Which topics in your classes interest you?
  • Do you have a specific project in mind (e.g., cancer research) or do you want to acquire a set of skills that can be transferred to other sub-disciplines in the future?

You should really be excited about working on a research project. Don’t do it just to build your résumé or earn academic credit.

Step 2: Identify your potential mentors

Finding a mentor may take a bit of work but there are many ways to find them:

  • Ask your faculty adviser for names of Mizzou faculty members who are doing scholarly work in your area of interest.
  • Ask other students in your department about the research project they work on and their mentors.
  • Ask your class instructors and teaching assistants for suggestions and recommendations. Also, most Mizzou departments have brochures, annual reports and Web sites that list faculty research interests.
  • Browse Mizzou department, unit and division Web sites and research center Web sites.
  • Attend departmental and campus seminars to learn about new areas of research. If the speaker is a visitor from another campus, find out which faculty member hosted the speaker; chances are they have similar research interests.
  • Read campus newspapers, Web sites and MU News Bureau press releases for information on new research projects and faculty grants.
  • Talk with people in departments of interest including academic advisers, faculty, upperclassmen, graduate teaching assistants (TAs), etc. If a class topic inspires you, discuss your interest with the professor after class.

Step 3: Meet your list of potential mentors

  • Make an appointment. Let the faculty members know that you are interested in their research and would like to find out more about the possibility of working with them. Be sure they understand that you are going to talk with several mentors so that you can find the best fit with your interests and abilities.
  • Do your homework. Read all you can about each faculty member and their research program, including their research summary. Try to understand the basic principles of their scholarly work and the methodologies they use before you meet with them. Find out what other undergraduate researchers say about their mentors.
  • Be prepared. When you arrive for your appointment, bring a copy of your transcript or a list of relevant courses completed and a résumé. Explain why you are interested in a research experience and in their particular research program, as well as the name of a faculty member or adviser who has agreed to be a reference. Also give the faculty member an idea of the amount of time you are able to commit to your research experience, both in hours per week and total number of semesters.

What questions should I ask faculty?

Here are several appropriate questions:

  • Do you have a research project that needs an undergraduate student’s help?
  • How did you get involved in this particular area of research?
  • Why is your particular area of research important?
  • Where does funding come from for your research?
  • What does an undergraduate working with you typically do?
  • What are some projects previous students have worked on?
  • Are there any particular skills or characteristics you expect an undergraduate to have before beginning a project with you?
  • What are your expectations of undergraduate researchers?
  • Are there any specific classes you suggest I take?
  • Are there any books or research articles you suggest I read?
  • Do you have suggestions for other faculty members for me to talk to?

Step 4: Select a mentor, select a project and start working

Check out our current list of research jobs and programs to get involved with and apply for. Keep in mind that participating in research is your first step towards realizing your future career, so be sure to enjoy it!