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Getting Started...

1. Consider your reasons for doing research

There are many good reasons for doing research. Sometimes a student might be looking for ways to apply the skills and knowledge they've learned in their classes in a real context, or they may want to be involved with something greater--the pursuit and search for knowledge that can benefit the world. Other students may be genuinely interested in a topic and want to see how they can get more involved.

One of the reasons NOT to do research is because you feel you have to or that it's expected. Like most things, forcing yourself to do something you are not fully invested in will not only show in the end product you create but will also negatively reflect on you as a researcher.

2. Find a topic that interests you.

A good way to find a topic of research is to start with the classes you're taking. When you come across an idea, theory, or concept you find interesting, make note of it as a potential topic. Studying abroad not only expands your horizons but is another way to get ideas or find different perspectives on topics you were already thinking about. Keep in mind that conducting research is generally a long and exhaustive process--you don't want to be laboring over something you don't find exciting!

Remember to keep an open mind and don't jump at the first research idea that comes your way. You may have had thoughts about what you wanted to research when you came in as a freshman--these ideas are liable to change.

As you narrow your scope into more specific topics, investigate what has been done before. Your research needs to be original, so you don't want to devote a lot of time to something that's already been extensively studied. Also, keep in mind that some academic departments require that students have a combination of knowledge of the subject and practical skills (like computer programming) before they can begin research. Please consult with the faculty in the department where you want to do research if you have questions about your preparation.

3. Find a Faculty Advisor and Funding (if necessary)

Once you've concluded your background research and know what you're interested in studying, you will need to find a faculty sponsor. This person will help guide you through your research project, prompting you along the way and making sure you stay on track. One way to find a faculty sponsor is by visiting the faculty page of your department's web site. Many times faculty will list their research interests and the projects they are currently working on. You may also want to ask professors you have had for class, the same classes that helped you determine your research topic.

Compile a list of professors that you would be interested in working with and start by writing them an email. Be sure to address them by their honorifics (usually Dr. -----), and make sure to spell their name correctly. Introduce yourself (your full name, your major, and your year) and politely explain what you are interested in researching and why you would like to work with them. Ask to set up a time to meet at their discretion.

Hopefully you will have a couple professors who are willing to meet with you. Create or update your resume and bring it with you to your meetings. Although business attire is not required make sure you are dressed appropriately for an interview. If you are a freshman or sophomore who has never done research before, don't worry--focus on showing your genuine and keen interest for the research topic. If applicable, make sure to tell the professors about your funding or what funding you are applying for (for more information see the Funding page). The interview is an excellent chance to figure out if you'll work well together. During your interview, consider these factors--do your personalities match? Do you think you'll work well together? Can the professor devote time to actively help you?

Remember to be flexible in the process. You want a faculty sponsor that will be the most useful to you even if that means choosing someone whose experience is not necessarily the closest to your project.

4. Start Networking

As you conduct more research on your topic, begin to look for experts in the field you're studying. These people will have valuable insight on your topic and may also provide a field experience for you to take part in. This is especially crucial if you will be researching in a foreign country.

Make a list of people that would be most helpful. After studying their work and publications, send them an email introducing yourself and discussing briefly your research project and how it relates to their work. Don't be afraid to ask for their support or advice, and make sure to mention the faculty sponsor you are working with.

5. Refine the purpose and methodology of your research

As you learn more about your topic, start to narrow down the purpose of your research and its methodology. There are no preset methods in the humanities, social sciences and math, so many times you need to figure out for yourself what you are measuring and how to do so as accurately and objectively as possible.

If you are doing research with live human subjects, you will need to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, which is an ethical evaluation of your research. Getting IRB approval will also help you in narrowing down your research to specific, achievable methods. Your faculty sponsor will be able to help you determine if you need to proceed with the IRB.

6. Collect the data and write your paper

This step will vary greatly depending on the nature of your research. Collecting data may mean anything from evaluating responses from interviews to analyzing the work that was done during a field experience. At this point, you should be clear about what you are doing, as well as the end product--usually in the form of a thesis or final paper.