Undergraduate research assistants typically work four to ten hours a week (may be unpaid or paid) under the direction of a faculty mentor on that faculty member’s own research. Students learn skills and gain valuable experience that will enhance their graduate school and job qualifications, all while making significant contributions to the fearless discoveries that drive UMD.
All undergraduate students wanting to get involved in research do so through their own initiative. MCUR cannot find a research opportunity for you, but we can advise you on a search strategy for finding opportunities and point you towards appropriate resources.
Preparing to take on research
We recommended that students interested in participating in research have the following characteristics:
- Be in good academic standing: Because students on academic probation for consecutive semesters may be subject to academic dismissal from the University, we strongly recommend that such students NOT seek or commit time to undergraduate research activities until they have restored themselves to good academic standing at a minimum.
- Have a minimum GPA of 2.5: If you are struggling or underperforming in one or more areas academically it is in your best interests to focus on strengthening your performance in your classes before committing substantial time to an extracurriculur research project.
- Have completed at least 15 credits at College Park: Adjusting to your new life and studies at the University of Maryland can take time. If you are a first semester freshman, we recommend that you make settling in well your priority. If you get off to a strong start in your coursework and develop good time-management skills at the college-level, you will be much better prepared to take on the time commitment of research.
- Have time to commit to research: Research assistants typically commit to six to ten hours per week to their faculty-mentored research projects. Your course work should be your priority, so do not take on a research project if it will put your academic work in jeopardy.
- Are willing to work as a research assistant for at least one semester: Research mentors invest substantial time and effort to train undergraduates to be effective contributors to their research projects. That investment will pay off best for both parties—for you and for your mentor—if you are prepared to commit yourself for at least one full semester of participation in a research project.
Starting your search
- Start by talking with people you already know. Talk to your current or past professors or your undergraduate major advisor.
- Survey the research being done by faculty members in your area of interest. There are two ways to do this. You can use the Maryland Student Researchers database to find research projects that are recruiting undergraduate research assistants. Search is available by college or keyword. You can also use the Research in My Major page on the MCUR website to explore the research interests of all faculty in a given department.
- Identify faculty members whose research looks interesting to you.
Once you have identified some faculty members with whom you would like to work, send the faculty member(s) a personal email.
- Do not wait until several weeks into the semester to contact faculty members about research opportunities. Research positions may fill up quickly, so start contacting faculty members before the start of the semester.
- Your email should introduce yourself and explain why you want to join that particular project. Statements such as "I need to do research to get into medical school" will not encourage professors to commmit time and resources to training you. Your application will ALWAYS be more effective if you provide specific, sincere reasons for contacting a researcher about their project.
- Be sure to use your official UMD email account. Emails from commercial accounts such as Gmail or Yahoo may get deleted by spam filters or be ignored.
- Your email should include the following:
- A subject line stating your interest in undergraduate research.
- Your major (if you've declared it) and academic year (freshman, sophomore, etc.)
- When you would like to participate in the research (fall or spring semester, academic year).
- A clear reference to the faculty member's research and what interests you about their research.
- Highlights of coursework you have taken which are relevant to the research project.
- Mention of any previous research experience.
- Knowledge of skills or software that might be relevant to the research project or field.
- Attached transcript and resume. The UMD Career Center has effective resources to help you prepare a good, concise cover letter and resume.
- A request to set up a time to talk with the faculty member about available research opportunities.
- Faculty members are busy people. If you have not received a response in a week or two, re-send your email.
An example email is as follows:
Dear Professor Blank,
My name is Sara and I am a junior with a double major in Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics and Journalism. I saw your project on DNA Tumor Virology and am very interested in joining, as I am considering going to graduate school to study Virology. I have completed the courses listed as prerequisites for your project. If you still have places available in your lab, I would love to be involved in your work. Please find my resume and unofficial transcript attached.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Sara Jane Smith
Getting the most out of your experience
As a Maryland Student Researcher, you have an opportunity to gain invaluable research skills and experiences. MCUR aims for you to be introduced to the research process and to learn more about a field that interests you. An added benefit is that you will have a chance to build a relationship with a faculty member outside of the classroom.
In order to get the most out of your research experience:
- Negotiate the details of your responsibilities by asking and agreeing upon the answers to the following questions:
- How many hours will I be expected to work per week?
- What will my schedule be(e.g., Monday, Wednesday, Friday 12-2pm)?
- What will my responsibilities be?
- Who will be my direct supervisor and how much supervision will I receive?
- How will my supervisor and I communicate, and how often?
- Where will I perform my responsibilities?
- What if I get sick or have too much school work one week? How can I make up the hours? Who should I contact if I am not coming to work?
- What are my start date and end date? Will I be responsible for working during exam week? Will I be required to work during breaks such as spring break?
- Ask your faculty mentor or a graduate student to explain the larger picture of the project and how it relates to current research in the field. Through this you may learn more about your field of interest and the process of research more generally.
- Be assertive and direct when communicating with your faculty mentor. If you are unclear about directions for a particular task, ask for clarification. Ensure you have an agreed-upon way to ask questions and receive feedback and guidance.
- Manage your time wisely and perform your research tasks regularly. You and your faculty mentor will benefit the most from your work as a research assistant if you set and keep regular working hours. If special circumstances do arise, notify your mentor as soon as possible.
- Make a sincere and enthusiastic commitment to your project. While some tasks may seem insignificant, careful attention to minor tasks is crucial to any project's success. Make sure your mentor knows you appreciate the time he or she spends with you.
- Search the Maryland Student Researchers database of available on-campus opportunities.
- Set up an appointment with MCUR staff (email us at email@example.com) for help on searching for research opportunities.
- Attend a MCUR workshop on research opportunities. Upcoming workshops and slides from past workshops are posted on the home page.
- Look at Research on Campus and Research in My Major for other listings and links to research opportunities on campus. You may also want to look at the directory of the University of Maryland's Research Programs and Centers.
- If you are interested in off-campus research opportunities, look at Research in D.C., Research in the U.S., and International Research Opportunities.
- Graduating seniors (especially those in the biological and biomedical sciences) may want to look at the Post-Baccaulaureate Research Opportunities page.