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Many students at Carolina know they want to “do research” but don’t know what to do next. The Office for Undergraduate Research is here to help you figure out the steps you need to take to find a research experience that is rewarding to you and helps you prepare for your next goals.
Research includes any sort of original inquiry, scholarship, or creative work. Students at Carolina do research in their communities, in labs, in archives, outside, in museums, and in places across the world. Since there are so many forms that research can take, there ar
e many different ways to get started.
You do not need to go through the Office for Undergraduate Research to do research at Carolina, and none of these steps is required. Email us if you have questions about your specific path or if you’d like to set up an appointment.
I want/need to do research, but I don’t really know what I want to do. Where do I start?
This is a very common problem. Many students think the idea of creating new knowledge about the world sounds great. Other students know they need research experience to help them get into graduate school, med school, law school, or to make them more desirable on the job market. Most Carolina students want to give back to their communities in some way. All of these things can lead to a desire to do research without a clear goal about what the research should be.
To get started in coming up with ideas about research, think about what kinds of topics motivate you the most. This can include classes & majors, but also think about things like hobbies, community service interests, or specific skills you have. Lots of students do research projects based on interests they have outside of school. Here are some other ways you can explore research topic ideas:
- Enroll in a First Year Seminar that offers a research experience, or in a Research Exposure Course.
- Enroll in IDST 194, Modes of Inquiry to learn about faculty research in many disciplines.
- Look for students who have done projects in topics related to your interests in the database of projects presented at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research or that students have done as part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. You can also attend the Celebration of Undergraduate Research, held every April, to talk to students about their research. No registration is required to attend!
I know what I want to research. I just don’t know how to find a way to do it.
Once you have some ideas about what kinds of research areas interest you, it’s time to start looking for ways to get involved in research. Some students will work on their research by themselves with help from a faculty advisor or outside source; others will join an existing research project as a research assistant, lab staff, or other role as part of a team. While the best way for most people to find an opportunity is to ask people you know who are already involved in the field, like a TA, professor, or fellow student, there are other ways you can find a specific project that’s right for you:
- Higher-level courses, like Research Intensive and Research Methods Courses, spend more time working on specific applied research and independent research projects.
- Review current postings on the OUR Database of Research Opportunities. This database lists opportunities where a faculty member has asked specifically for an undergraduate student at UNC to help with a research project. While it doesn’t list all research opportunities on campus, it’s a good way to see if there’s a project already going on in your chosen area.
- Choose a work-study job, part-time job, or job advertised in the DTH that might lead to a research experience. Many campus jobs have elements of research involved, or will train you in skills that can be helpful to your research, like statistics, data collection, or lab protocols.
- Make an appointment to talk with an OUR Department Liaison in an area where you want to know more about research. Liaisons know about the research done at UNC by others in the same field.
- Request assistance from University librarians concerning Carolina faculty research expertise. (Click on a topic area to see the librarian who specializes in that area).
- Review the websites of faculty whose work interests you.
- Attend a workshop to learn more about proposal development and apply for a research fellowship.
- If you are interested in international research experiences, review what SURF recipients have done by using the Past Student Projects database. You can sort by continent!
I’ve done some research before. How do I take it to the next level?
- Design an independent study course with a faculty advisor, or apply for a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to try what it’s like to research when you’re not taking classes.
- Consider expanding your field by doing research on another topic or in an additional area.
- Shadow a researcher in a Triangle-area business or institution to see what research is like outside the university.
- Present or publish your work! Research should be applied in the world, so get your results out there. Present at the Celebration of Undergraduate Research, the ACC Meeting of the Minds Conference, or submit your research for publication.