College of Liberal Arts

Faculty vs. Independent Research

Faculty Research

By working with a faculty member, students learn important methods, skills, and tips on how to approach common challenges in research. Students also get the opportunity to work closely with prominent faculty at one of the nation's leading public research universities. Here are some easy steps to follow when trying to identify potential faculty to work with:

Establish your interests

  • What topics intrigue you?

  • Are you willing to commit a large amount of time to the exploration of a particular topic?

  • Think back on previous classes, volunteering or work experience, books you've read, papers you've written, and lectures you've attended.

Identify faculty who share your interests

  • Search for undergraduate opportunities in faculty research on the Undergraduate Research Opportunities page.
  • Search faculty members on EUREKA! ™.
  • Look at departments relevant to your interests and search the faculty pages.
  • Think back on classes you have taken and consider if any previous professors might be a good fit.

Consider course credit

  • Many majors offer upper-division conference courses. Talk to your academic advisor to see if your department offers a course that might work for you.
  • Some departments have a specific course in which students assist with a faculty research project. For example, PSY 357 requires its students to seek out a faculty member and assist with their research.
  • UGS 310 and 320 are also available through the School of Undergraduate Studies.
  • See Course Credit for more information.

Get organized

  • Consider what you are hoping to bring to the project and what skills you are hoping to gain from it.
  • Investigate what the faculty member has been working on (research, publications) and think of questions you may have about their work.
  • Think about your availability in a realistic way and consider how much time you can actually commit to the project.
  • Ensure you can clearly articulate your interests.
  • Think about how your school/work load might affect your reliability.

Make contact

  • Send the faculty member an email.
  • Address the professor as "Dr." and be respectful.
  • Tell the professor a little about yourself and your interests, that you are interested in assisting them with their research, and that you would like to set up a meeting to discuss it.
  • Don't be discouraged if the faculty member is not looking for anyone at that time - ask if they can recommend someone else and try again.

Meet with the faculty member

  • When you meet with faculty, be prepared to discuss the items from step 4.
  • Dress neatly and be confident and relaxed.
  • Ask the professor to outline what he/she would expect from you in terms of time commitment and skills necessary to complete the research.
  • Discuss course credit if it is something you are interested in.

Reflect after the meeting

  • Reflect and consider if both of your expectations could be met if you worked together.
  • If it's not a good fit, be sure to tell the faculty member - politely but directly - and ask if the faculty member can recommend someone else. You may want to go back to step 2.
  • If it is a good fit, and the faculty member agrees, proceed in outlining the expectations described in the next step.

Outline expectations for the project

  • Decide on a start date for your work on the project.
  • Set up weekly or biweekly meetings.
  • Make arrangements for course credit if you are going to pursue it.

Independent Research

Some students choose to pursue their own independent research project, which may have grown out of work on another project or the student's own passion for a particular area. The most common form of independent research is an honors thesis, but all students can undertake their own research project.

Ideally, a student will meet regularly with a faculty mentor who provides advice and encouragement throughout the project. Whether a student has participated in research before or not, a faculty member upon whom the student can rely on for feedback and direction can prove invaluable.

Students can pursue an independent research project at any time in their academic career; however, most students are not ready to pursue an independent research project until their third or fourth year. It takes time for students to establish their interests, become familiar with faculty and departments, and be able to fully utilize all of the University's resources.

An independent research project might be right for you if....
  • You have already assisted with a faculty research project.
  • You understand the methods you will utilize to pursue your project and what goals you hope to achieve.
  • You have a research topic in mind.

Things to Consider

  • Are you able to devote 8-12 hours a week to a project?
  • What do you want to get out of your experience?
  • What are your expectations for the faculty mentor?
  • Do you want to explore a new subject or expand on one you're already studying?
  • Are you able to work independently and stay on track?
  • Do you want course credit (link to Course Credit options page)?
  • Are your expectations for the project and yourself reasonable?