Department of Chemistry

Undergraduate Research

Why do Undergraduate Research?

Almost every undergraduate chemistry major that has undertaken a research project has found it to be an exciting and rewarding experience. Undergraduate research can help you acquire a spirit of inquiry, initiative, independence, sound judgment, patience, persistence, alertness, and the ability to use the chemical literature. The Department strongly endorses undergraduate research as one of the potentially most rewarding aspects of your undergraduate experience.

The reasons are many. One certainly is that it affords an opportunity to make pioneering discoveries at the forefront of science, using instrumentation and techniques far more sophisticated than those usually encountered in standard laboratory courses. Moreover, concepts learned in lecture courses become alive as they are applied to real situations. For students considering graduate studies, it is a chance to work along side graduate students and postdoctoral associates and experience firsthand some aspects of graduate training. But perhaps even more important than any of these reasons is the maturity, which comes from facing the challenge of designing an experiment or new type of calculation from scratch. There are no laboratory manuals with "cookbook" procedures for doing original research! It is not surprising, then, that over 80 students are involved in undergraduate research projects in chemistry each year.

Although successful completion of an undergraduate research project is a requirement for graduation with Honors or Highest Honors (see below), it is not necessary to be a participant in the honors program to undertake a research project. Visit the Office for Undegraduate Research to learn where "your curiosity can lead you."

 

Where to Start?

The usual mechanism for getting involved in a research project is to register for Chem 395. This process begins well in advance of a preregistration or registration period with a visit to the Chemistry Student Services Office, Kenan Laboratories 140, where you will:

  • Obtain an information sheet on Undergraduate Research (PENDING UPDATE, FEB 2014).
  • Obtain a list of Undergraduate Research Opportunities.
  • Obtain a "Request for Registration in Chem 395."
  • Copy of transcript available on request from student or research advisor.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities sheet lists faculty research interests, contact information, minimum semesters of work required, and course prerequisites. Since it usually requires an extensive effort and an appreciable period of time to train a new member of a research group, many professors ask for a commitment of a minimum number of semesters of research. Most students begin research during the spring semester of their junior year and continue throughout their senior year.

You should select from the list several faculty members who have openings in areas of interest to you and make appointments with them to discuss the projects they have available. They, in turn, will be interested in interviewing and discussing your career plans. The projects, which they describe to you usually, will be part of long-range programs underway in their research groups. These interviews usually last about half an hour.

 

How Does My Research Count Towards Credit Hours?

Chem 395 may be taken for credit as many times as desired but may be counted for no more than 9 hours total credit toward graduation in either the B.A. or B.S. curriculum. In the B.S. curriculum it may be counted once as an advanced chemistry elective. In the B.S., Biochemistry Track it may be counted once as an advanced biochemistry elective.

Almost all of the time devoted to Chem 395 is spent in the laboratory or the Chemistry library. There are no examinations or homework assignments. Hence, students are expected to invest around 9-12 hours per week in laboratory and library activities. They are usually also invited to the weekly meetings of the research group and occasionally asked to make an oral presentation of their research progress. All work must be done on campus and the student may receive no remuneration.

After you have completed your round of discussion with possible research advisors, return to the professor whose project interests you most and who is willing to accept you.Together you will complete the form "Request for Registration in Chem 395."

Return the signed form to the Chemistry Student Services Office in Kenan Laboratories room 140, before the end of the first week of classes.

 

Registration Will Not Be Accepted After First Week of Classes

Research projects should begin by the second week of classes.

The Chemistry Student Services Office will register you for Chem 395 in the Registration System.

 

Undergraduate Research Outside of the Chemistry Department

On occasion the Department will grant approval of a project undertaken under the supervision of a faculty member in another department (PENDING UPDATE, FEB 2014).

  • It is important that the project principally involves chemistry.
  • The work must be performed under the direct supervision of a full-time faculty member.
  • A letter from the research advisor addressing these two points is required.

 

Continuing Your Research and Finishing Up

Enrollment in subsequent semesters is much simpler, as long as you continue to work with the same research advisor. The form "Request for Registration in Chem 395" must still be completed and returned to the Chemistry Student Services Office by the due date, but no research summary is required.

At the end of your final semester of enrollment in Chem 395, you must submit a concise, well-written, comprehensive, and well-documented research report. This report should include a statement of the basis for the research undertaken, a summary of the cogent results obtained, using text, figures, and tables as appropriate, and a statement of the conclusions reached. The research report should be no more than ten double-spaced pages with 1" margins in 12 point type.

The research reports must be turned in to the research advisor the last week of classes, so they can assign a grade. Students should retrieve this graded report during finals week to turn it in to the Chemistry Student Services Office. For a student to count undergraduate research as an advanced course for ACS certification purposes, Student Services must have a report on file.