Research Involvement

Why Research?

Participating in research as an Honors student can provide unparalleled access to some of the most prestigious faculty members, exceptional students, and areas of study at the UW. Research provides an opportunity for students to take their learning into the “real world.” Beyond its applicability, research also provides legitimate job training and experience, each of which is paramount in competitive fields. Finally, in some instances, research at the UW can be an actual paid experience.

How to find your own mentor

Rather than seeking research opportunities through academic courses, students can be presented with the challenge of finding their own opportunities. Through these steps, we outline some of the pivotal steps in securing your own experience. If at any point you have questions about the process, please consider reaching out to advisors via email at advisor@honors.ls.wisc.edu or by scheduling an appointment via Starfish.

This resource is adapted in part from “Finding a Research Mentor” by  WISCIENCE and is used under license CC BY-NC 4.0.

In order to find a research opportunity, you should first consider what research area interests you. You may want to discuss this with your academic advisor, a professor, or a TA in one of your courses. Often they can give you ideas about faculty who are working within your area of interest.

Areas of interest may be broad, like “Neuroscience,” or specific, like “how the interaction of genes and environment influence long-term health.

You can often explore potential broad areas of research on department pages like these: Political Science, Psychology, Computer Sciences, and Chemistry. Many other departments have research pages on their websites, too–explore!

Once you have identified an area of interest, it is time to do some background research. Begin to review faculty research descriptions and interests, noting those individuals who stand out. When doing so, we recommend attempting to create a ranked list of roughly 15 potential mentors, making sure to write down particulars about each faculty member. To help keep track of your work, we recommend you use this helpful spreadsheet.

Process Example:

  1. Visit the Department of Psychology.
  2. Within the top banner, you will select the term “Research.”
  3. Once selected, we would recommend first visiting the “Research Overview” page.
  4. After you have read through the general descriptions of each research area, you could then select one of interest, i.e. “Social and Personality Research Area.”
  5. Once there, you will be able to read more information about the research area, in general, but will also be introduced to each faculty member and their Social and Personality-specific research interests (along the right side).
  6. Selecting any of those individuals will take you to the personal biography of that faculty member, filled with detailed information about research interests, publications, educational histories, and more.

Additional ways to identify researchers of interest:

Many students select to send the potential mentor a detailed email. Others who may have more familiarity with their potential mentor opt to visit them in-person during their office hours. For your convenience, you may use this research email template (adapted from the Center for Pre-Health Advising) as a way to initiate the conversation.

When contacting potential mentors, you will want to make sure that you share some key information:

  • Background information about yourself
  • The amount of time you are able and interest in committing to a research project (this may be influenced by the type of research project you plan to undertake)
  • A connection to the mentor’s work (what, specifically, interests you about working with them)
  • The motivation for pursuing this specific research opportunity
  • Attachments of relevant documents (a resume and transcript may help demonstrate your academic and professional experiences)

If you are given the opportunity to meet with a potential research mentor, it is likely because they are interested in learning more about your background and level of enthusiasm about the research you would be conducting. When taking part, however, it is important to follow some general guidelines:

  • Arrive at your meeting at or before the designated time
    • If virtual, make sure you have a solid internet connection and that you have all the necessary links. It would also be important to verify that both your camera and microphone are operational.
    • If in-person, make sure that you have outlined the route to the meeting in advance and that you leave with ample time to arrive when necessary.
  • Dress appropriately
    • This type of meeting should be treated as an interview and your dress should reflect that.
  • Be prepared
    • It is very likely the mentor will ask you questions about your interest and knowledge related to their work. Review the mentor’s background and your interest in advance. Be fully aware of your capacity to contribute (how often, in what ways, etc.).
  • Ask questions
    • What research projects are currently happening and in what role would you be placed?
    • What is the typical role of undergraduates in their lab(s)? How many undergraduates will they be working with?
    • Who would directly supervise your work and in what capacity will you communicate and connect with the mentor?
    • Anything else in which you might be interested!

Questions?

You are more than welcome to connect with an Honors advisor with any potential questions. To do so, you can email the Honors Advising Team at advisor@honors.ls.wisc.edu. Additionally, you could schedule an appointment with an Honors advisor through Starfish. For more specific questions, you could also reach out to Matt Kohlstedt, Associate Director of Admissions and Research.