Methods of Getting Involved

I want to explore my options for undergraduate research, but I don’t have a specific project in mind. Is that ok?

Don’t worry. Most faculty mentors don’t expect you to have a prize-winning idea. Indeed, in the natural and social sciences, where most faculty are involved in grant-funded research, your mentor will want you to plug into a specific project that is part of their ongoing research program. Your mentor will get you started on a project, teach you the tools and techniques, and provide the resources that you will need for your research.

You should bring an interest in the field, a willingness to learn, a commitment to being part of the research effort, and an enthusiasm that will carry you through to your goal of being an independent scholar.

I have a specific idea for a project that I want to do. Can I do that?

Undergraduate research must be a mentored experience. You may be able to pursue your own ideas if you can find a faculty mentor willing to provide support and guide your project. Get advice from the Director of Undergraduate Studies and contact prospective mentors. Expect to refine your ideas into a written proposal. If you need resources for your project, academic-year grants and summer fellowships are available from the URS Office.

I’ve identified some potential mentors. How do I approach them?

Expect to contact several potential mentors in your search for the right fit. Many faculty are active in research projects and are happy to mentor undergraduates. However, some faculty members may be on leave, or no longer active in research. And, in any given semester, an active research faculty member may only have time or resources to take on a limited number of undergraduate mentees.

But don’t be discouraged! There are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Contact the potential mentors well in advance
  • Be patient when if you don’t hear back right away, be persistent, and, if need be, follow up in person.
  • Be sure that you’ve done your homework so that you impress a potential mentor. You want them to know that you are really enthusiastic and committed to doing research under their direction.

Can I get funding for research?

Yes! The Undergraduate Research Support Office offers small grants for expenses associated with Independent Study projects, Graduation with Distinction projects, and for travel to conferences to present your work. We also provide assistantships to offset the salary of a student research assistant. In addition, summer fellowships are available from the URS Office and other departments at Duke, to support project and living expenses for mentored research projects. Finally, summer programs provide a stipend, and often cover other expenses, for an 8-10 week experience.