Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The most important thing about joining a research group is just doing it! All professors will be glad to accept you into their research group if they have room. And if one professor doesn't have room for you, go ask another one. If you are ready to work and you want to become a productive member of a research group, then they will be glad to use you. With the increasing requirements being placed on graduate students, undergraduates are becoming valuable assets to their professor.

"Oh Sure!" you say, I’ll be a "valuable beaker washer." Even though you may have to help out sometimes here and there, all members of a group pull their own weight and are generally responsible for their own areas. As a member of a research group, you will have your own project to work on or you may have to work with a graduate student to help complete a project. But either way, the work you will be doing will be real research that probably has never been done before. Unlike a teaching lab, research labs rely on a person's ability to adapt procedures and use their imagination to achieve results.

Research labs present great opportunities to learn chemistry. You will be able to see how chemistry is used to solve problems and learn to draw from your fundamental knowledge of chemistry. You will be surprised how much you remember once you have a real situation to apply it to. Some groups will have weekly group meetings in which problems are discussed and ideas are passed around, undergraduate and graduate alike.

The thing to remember is to have fun. This is a great opportunity to get some experience that may have many benefits in the future.

"I Spend 80 Hours a Week Studying and You Want Me to Join a Research Group?"

There are many advantages to joining a research group, although the benefits vary among different people. The main reasons for joining a group fall into two categories: present benefits and future benefits.

First of all, a good reason for joining a research group is the senior capstone. There are two capstone programs offered by the Department of Chemistry. One program is a seminar-based capstone and the other is a research-based capstone. The research-based senior capstone for chemistry requires prior chemistry undergraduate research experience of some kind, whether it was independent study (CHM 177-477), honors research (CHM 480) or undergraduate research (CHM 490). The sooner you join a group, the more prepared you will be to complete your senior capstone. This is because there are many procedures and techniques that take time to learn and you must have them mastered to complete your project. It would be wise to decide early whether you would like to attempt the research capstone, in which case you can plan to have the prerequisites completed before you have to start your project.

Another benefit of joining a research group is that you will have a basis of operations from which to conduct your chemistry life. You will find that having a lab in which you can go to between classes makes life much easier. You will discover that you are not only a member, but an asset to the department, not just a four-year visitor. You might also have several tutors near by to help with problems you may have with your homework. Graduate students generally can aid in helping an undergraduate with homework problems as they arise.

Another benefit is that you will learn to apply the chemistry knowledge which you have acquired and you will learn a lot more about your particular research area. You will know more about your research area than almost any other undergraduate students or even professors in the department. You will find yourself generally interested in the area and you will want to read journal articles to see what other people are doing in your area of research. Then, once you have done considerable work in your area, you will be able to travel to regional or national meetings to present your research to your peers in your research areas. You will also be able to submit your work to a scientific journal for publication. This is a credential that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

The future benefits of joining a group will be greater than the present ones. Undergraduate research gives professors something to single you out from other undergraduates on reference letters. They can point out your abilities that would not be evident to them from just course work.

Corporate recruiters believe that undergraduate research experience has an effect on your ability to be hired; undergraduate research is looked at strongly by the interviewers. It could be the one thing that gives you an edge over someone who has not had the experience. Also, the type of research that you do will be an important factor depending on the industrial position you are seeking. If you are applying for an organic lab position but have only analytical experience, then you may not be as desirable as an applicant with organic experience; however, you will be a lot more desirable than someone who has no research experience at all.

Some graduate schools use undergraduate research in their admission decisions. Research is not a substitute for good grades and references but is a supplement to these academic qualifications. It may put you “over the edge” if you are on the borderline or may determine the type of support that you will receive. And remember: undergraduate research usually leads to good references. Being familiar with the lab environment will help your transition into a research group in graduate school and this will only help to speed your completion of graduate school.

How to Choose a Research Group

1. Do not decide ahead of time that you hate a certain division.

Do not let your experience in a certain class determine your preference for doing research. You cannot cover all the aspects of a chemistry division (Organic, Analytical, Inorganic, Physical and Biochemistry) in a semester or two. Also, just because you didn't like a certain topic in a class, you should not exclude those topics as research areas. It will not be the same! You should talk to the professor or other members of the group before making a decision.

Also do not let your preference for a certain division exclude the other divisions. In most cases, research groups will actually do work that can be classified in several divisions.

2. Read faculty research descriptions and choose several professors to talk to.

The descriptions of the Faculty outline the general research areas of each group and the research opportunities for undergraduates. You should read them all and pick a few that you may be interested in. Then go and talk to those professors and maybe some of the group members. But remember, it is the professor who lets you in the group, not a group member.

It’s a good idea to choose more than one group because space is limited and you may not get your first choice. Use the worksheet provided in this handbook to keep notes on the groups that you talked to so that you can refer back to them when making your decision.

3. Don't Quit Looking!

If you don't get into the group you chose, keep trying. All professors are doing interesting work. Even though it may not look like your cup of tea, you'll be surprised how interesting the research becomes once it becomes YOUR research. You may even become very interested in a field that you never before considered.

Also, don't be afraid to ask to join a group because you are a freshman. Some professors have minimum criteria for undergraduates to obtain before working for them but if you are willing and pester them enough they may give in. Just use some common sense when deciding if you are ready for some groups. But it doesn't hurt to ask.

4. Once You Choose a Group and You Are Accepted by the Professor, Start Right Away

You cannot start too soon! If you have the time in your schedule, jump in and get started. You may have to take credit hours for the work you do. The requirements for the type of credit to take and the number of hours you must spend in lab per week differ from professor to professor. There are several types of undergraduate research courses available :

Course Number Title Credits Notes
CHM 177 Freshman Independent Study 1–3 Minimum CHM GPA of 2.3
CHM 277 Sophomore Independent Study 1–3 Minimum CHM GPA of 2.3
CHM 377 Junior Independent Study 1–3 Minimum CHM GPA of 2.3
CHM 477 Senior Independent Study 1–3 Minimum CHM GPA of 2.3
CHM 480 Honors Research Not related to Miami's Honors Program; CHM 480 is for students interested in departmental honors.
CHM 490 Undergraduate Research 1–3 Maximum 6 credits
CHM 492 Independent Research Capstone 3 Prerequisite experience

Not all these classes will be listed in the schedule of classes but all are valid. You must use the independent study form shown at the end of this section to enroll in any of these courses. And you should remember that credits between 12 - 18 hours are the same tuition, so it shouldn't cost anything if you are a full-time student. If you have a problem then you should discuss it with your professor. Most of them can be flexible. You just need to discuss your schedule with your professor and come up with something that will work for both of you.

Questions You Might Want to Ask About Undergraduate Research

First of all, it's a good idea to set up an appointment with the professor. They can be very busy at times and it would be a courtesy to them to ask for an appointment. Having a scheduled appointment will provide you with their undivided attention during your appointment time and will ensure that both of you have time to prepare. Some professors may want to talk to you at the time you try to make the appointment, so be prepared.

Here are some questions you might want to have answered by the research professor you are meeting with:

  • What would be my research role in your group?
  • How does my project fit into the group's project?
  • What chemistry prerequisites do I need to perform well in the group?
  • How much time am I expected to spend in the lab per week? Is this flexible?
  • Am I required to supply anything to work in the group?(lab coat, goggles, etc.)
  • Will the professor be available for consultation when problems arise? When?
  • Does the group have weekly meetings? When?
  • Could the project be published in a refereed journal or presented at an American Chemical Society regional or national meeting?
  • Are there opportunities for summer employment?
  • Signing up for Independent Study

An Independent Study Form must be completed when you register for Research credit. The forms are available in the chemistry office. Turn in the form at the registration window in Campus Avenue Building.

Departmental Honors

Undergraduate research is an integral part of obtaining Departmental Honors. For more information, see our Special Opportunities for Undergraduate Majors page.