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Roadmap to research

These steps are intended as a preliminary source of information and guidance towards research. It is not a substitute for meeting and talking with faculty to discuss what interests and engages you the most.

The roadmap to research steps include: 

Step one - Identify approach

You have the opportunity to work in a research lab or field setting and gain valuable experience. Decide what types of research you want to get involved in. 

Many students start by volunteering in a research lab. Once you have arranged a volunteering opportunity, please fill out the information requested here: Undergraduate volunteer program.

Working hourly in a lab can be a great way to get initial exposure, training and experience. Even starting as a dishwasher lets you see how the lab functions and gives you exposure to the work and people of a lab. These opportunities are often posted on the UMN Office of Human Resources site. Search for student jobs.

Course credit/Directed Research
It is possible to earn course credit while researching in a lab. Students with little experience can start by enrolling in the Biology Colloquium project (BIOL 1093). For students with more advanced coursework, Directed Research will be the best route.

UROP Scholarship
You can apply for an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program scholarship to receive funding for your research project. All the information about the UROP program can be found here: UROP.

Internships can help students gain experience in a particular field. Internships are often off-campus, and can be research-based or focus on career skills beyond research. Students can also earn credit for an internship experience by registering for BIOL 3610 Internship: Professional Experience in Biological Sciences.

Step two - Identify interests

Consider the following when figuring out the type of research that you want to do:

  • Which topics in your courses have you liked the most?
  • Which courses have you liked the most?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What have other students done? Check out the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
  • What other types of experiences have other students had?

Step three - Identify a Faculty Mentor

All research opportunities start with identifying a faculty mentor. Be thoughtful about what types of research you are interested in, and therefore which faculty members you decide to contact. You do not have to work with a CBS faculty member, but your projects do need to be related to the biological sciences.

Choosing potential faculty mentors
You will start by generating a list of 10 faculty members that you are genuinely interested in doing research with and start doing some research on the work that they do. Check out faculty member profiles. Publications from faculty labs can also be found at under their profile’s ‘Research Outputs’ tab.

Other common places students find faculty they are interested in working with:

Email tips:

State the type of research opportunity you are seeking, how many hours a week you can work, and why you are interested in their research specifically. If a faculty member does not respond within a week, it is appropriate to send a reminder email.

Step four - Make contact

First impressions
It is beneficial to do your homework and make a good first impression. Once you choose the faculty members you want to contact, read a couple of their most recent publications. You can find this information under their faculty profile at Experts@UMN. You may not understand everything in a research paper, but you will understand some of it. It  will help you determine that you want to work in someone’s lab, or may eliminate particular choices. After you  read some papers, email the faculty member and ask to set up an appointment to discuss their research and undergraduate opportunities in their lab.

A successful meeting
Once you have a meeting with a faculty member, consider the following at the meeting:

  • Remind them that you read their papers and that you chose them because you are interested in their research.
  • Communicate your availability and time commitment (hours per week and semesters).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Be serious but enthusiastic.

Step five - Success

Success in research is not always easy. Sometimes you can work hard and nothing turns out the way you want. Other times, you can make a mistake and it turns out to be a gold mine. Go into your research experience with an open mind and a willingness to learn and you will do great!