What is Undergraduate Research?

In the most general sense of the word, research is independent study in a field of interest. Undergraduate research is usually done in a lab under the supervision of a faculty mentor. The remarkable feature of research at UCLA is that you are not limited to research within your major or department or limited to working with a single faculty mentor or project at a time. 

What is research in STEM?

STEM research is usually done in the laboratory of a PI, or principal investigator. This is the faculty that runs the lab. STEM research often addresses a hypothesis, or scientific question and entry-level undergraduate STEM research is usually done as part of a larger, ongoing project in the lab. Undergraduates new to STEM research are often trained and supervised by postdocs, technicians, grad students, and other senior undergraduate researchers. 

Why do Research?

  • Conduct independent study in a field of interest that complements your studies, your academic goals, and your professional goals
  • UCLA is a world-class research institution with prestigious faculty conducting original research in their fields. Take advantage of the resources available to you
  • Find out if a career in research is right for you
  • Get valuable research experience to make you a competitive applicant for graduate or professional school
  • Research can serve as valuable work experience to make you a competitive applicant for your future career
  • Earn university credit and funding for your research
  • Build meaningful relationships with and receive mentorship from faculty and lab members

Conducting research as an undergraduate is an excellent way to gain experiences and skills that will benefit you both academically and professionally. In addition to exploring your areas of interest, undergraduate research develops skills in collaborative learning and critical thinking. For students interested in pursuing graduate or professional school, undergraduate research is a way of expanding your education outside of the classroom and better preparing yourself for the rigors of graduate study. Even if you are unsure about graduate studies, conducting undergraduate research is a way of exploring your research interests and testing the suitability of a research career to your interests. 

How to Prepare for Undergraduate Research

Some questions to ask yourself as you plan your research are:

  • What subjects am I interested in and passionate about?
  • How much time can I commit to research?
  • Will I need financial support to conduct research throughout the summer and academic year?
  • What do I want to gain from my research experience?
  • How can I best prepare myself academically and professionally to do research?
  • What courses should I take that will complement the work I do?
  • What safety courses will I need to take to do research in my field or lab?

The better you plan your academic coursework, the better you will be able to organize your time for research. Whatever your future professional and academic plans are, gaining experience in research will enhance your application and your preparedness for more self-directed research.

Once you have evaluated your research interests and organized your time, the next step is finding a faculty mentor. As part of a collaborative research team, you will need to find the right position both for you and your potential research lab.