How to Get Started in Research (for students)

Getting involved in research may appear to be a scary and confusing process. But in reality, it’s not as hard as you think. Here are a few tips on getting started:

Step 1: Identify your research interests

As you become a student researcher, it is important to determine where your interests lie. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which areas of research/class topics interested you?
  • Do you have a specific project in mind you’d like to work on?
  • What kind of skills do you have? What skills would you like to acquire?

It is important that you choose research topics based on where your interests lie. Participating in research is an important step towards shaping your academic and future career, so be sure to enjoy it!

Step 2: Locate a potential faculty sponsor

Once you have determined your area(s) of interest, the next step is to identify a faculty sponsor with whom you would like to work. This may require some effort, but this is an important step. A few ways to find a faculty sponsor include:

  • Visit the dean from your college (CAS, SOM, SEHS, or SHPS) and ask him/her for the names of any UM-Flint faculty who may be doing work in your area of interest.
  • Talk to your professors to see if they are interested in serving as your sponsor. Likewise, ask them if they know any other faculty with whom you can work. It is not uncommon for students and professors to develop a project that is an extension of work done in class.
  • Talk to other students (especially upperclassmen and graduate students) about research projects they may have worked on.
  • Attend campus and departmental meetings to learn about new research projects being conducted.
  • Read campus newsletters, departmental websites, and press releases about faculty research. You may find a researcher who shares similar interests.
  • Make sure you have several potential sponsors in mind.  In the event that your first choice is unable to work with you, you should always have back ups!

Step 3: Match up with a sponsor

Once you’ve generated a list of potential sponsors, you should meet them. Even if this process seems intimidating, don’t be scared to approach them. Keep in mind that they are here to serve you and to help you develop in any way possible.

  • Set up an appointment with each potential sponsor: During your meeting, inform the faculty member of your interests and your desire to work with them. Be sure to let them know that you are open to working with other faculty just in case they are unable to work with you. They may be able to give you suggestions on other faculty who better fit with your areas of interest.
  • Do your homework on the front end: Read as much as you can about each potential sponsor you are considering. You can obtain a copy of their curriculum vitae (similar to a résumé) which details all of their research experience. Do a little investigating into their work before you meet. Also, feel free to speak with other students who may have worked with your potential sponsors.
  • Come prepared: When you meet your potential sponsors, bring a résumé, a copy of your transcript (if you have one) or a list of relevant courses you have completed. This will help the faculty determine if you are a good fit with their project or what type of project would be suitable. During the meeting, you should explain why you want to work with this particular faculty member, what area(s) of research interest you, and what type of project(s) you’d like to perform. You should also give the potential sponsor a sense of your availability (the number of hours you can commit per week, the number of classes you're taking, your work schedule, etc.). This will give them an idea of how much time you can/should commit to the research.
  • Ask questions: It is important that you ask your potential sponsors as many questions as you need to. Some sample questions include:

    • Do you have a project available that requires student assistants?
    • How did you get involved in this particular area of research?
    • How is your research funded?
    • What are some previous projects you’ve worked on with students?
    • Are there any particular skills I should have to work on your project? Will training be available if I need it?
    • What are your expectations of student assistants?
    • Are there any particular classes you recommend that I take?
    • Are there any books or research articles you recommend for me to read?
    • Do you have suggestions on any other faculty with whom I can work?

Step 4: Start a project!

Once you have successfully found a sponsor with whom you'd like to work, start a project! Undergraduate students can receive financial support or class credit from our office through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Graduate students can receive support through the Graduate Student Research Assistantship program; sponsored by the Office of Graduate Programs.