Getting Started in Undergraduate Research

“There are few experiences better suited to prepare a student for lifelong learning than an active participation in research early in his or her education. The only ‘prerequisites’ are curiosity, the willingness to learn something not contained in the standard curriculum, and to work on questions to which the answers are not known yet.” —UCSB Professor Herb Kroemer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, 2000


Research is your investigation to answer a question or solve a problem. Guided by a mentor, you combine your unique perspective with existing knowledge to create an experiment that will help you find answers. Whether you are uncovering evidence of early feminism in the 1800s, engineering nanoparticle shape to target breast cancer cells, or dissecting the relationship between social justice and social media, research is a valuable tool that allows you to learn about an interesting subject and make meaningful contributions to the academic community.


Now is the perfect time to explore a variety of fields, approaches, working styles, and career paths. Participating in research projects can help you:

  • Gain confidence in your abilities as a student
  • Explore your interests and find a subject that you enjoy studying
  • Foster a network of faculty and graduate students who can help open doors to future opportunities
  • Contribute to the creation of new knowledge
  • Develop skills in time management, critical thinking, and problem solving
  • Apply what you have learned in class outside the classroom
  • Prepare for and clarify your goals for graduate school or a research career


Independent Research

Independent research is part-time, with work hours arranged around your class schedule. Doing research during the school year requires time management, and progress can be slow. However, school year research may allow you to stay long-term on a project and integrate into a research group, and is likely to lead to senior thesis projects, publications, and opportunities to attend professional meetings.

Depending on the department and the program, you may be able to work closely with a faculty member on a Senior Thesis Project (also known as Senior Honors or Honors Thesis). Your project may branch off of a professor’s or a graduate student’s research, or you may develop your own idea for an independent research project.

There are various programs such as MARC, EUREKA, and FRAP that can help you find an independent research project, and campus organizations that can help fund your project.

Summer Research

Summer research programs are more intensive—you are generally expected to commit full-time to the research program without taking summer classes or working other jobs. Good summer projects are designed for you to get results quickly; you learn a lot in a short period of time. Application Deadlines for formal summer programs are generally February to March, and you should plan to start searching for programs in JANUARY. These may be available to UCSB and Non-UCSB students.

Research Internships

Many labs are always looking for undergraduate help. Research internships allow you to explore your interests and gain laboratory work experience. You assist a researcher with his or her own research, often with data collection and processing. Research internships require less of a time commitment and are more flexible than an independent research project, and they may even lead to an independent research project. Here is a list of all research opportunities for UCSB Students