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Student Researcher Toolkit
Finding A Research Mentor
Faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are actively engaged in research. To discover research opportunities:
- Contact a professor from a class you’ve enjoyed taking. Professors often research in the same area as the courses they teach.
- Review department websites, faculty bios, and faculty lab websites. A quick review of a faculty bio or lab website will tell you more about their research areas and often let you know if they are seeking undergraduate researchers. Once you find a match, contact the professor and request an appointment. Here is an email template you can modify and use when contacting prospective faculty mentors.
- Ask for recommendations by making an appointment with Justina Clark in the Office of Undergraduate Research to discuss your research interests and goals.
- Check out the Office of Undergraduate Research list of current opportunities.
Don’t limit your research opportunities to your major! There are many interdisciplinary research projects taking place on campus, and you can engage in research with a faculty member outside your specific field. Students in the history department might research with a modern language professor, or a Biological Systems Engineering undergrad could research with a biochemistry professor.
Writing Your Research Proposal
The UCARE Research Proposal offers a detailed outline of the research project and serves as a roadmap for your research. The research proposal should be developed with feedback and consultation from the faculty advisor.
A proposal includes the following elements:
Statement of purpose states the problem you are trying to solve. A statement of purpose might begin:
- This study will examine …
- This study examined …
Research question includes the question(s) you are trying to solve. The research question is a concise statement that flows from your statement of purpose. The research question translates into a thesis statement that you prove or disprove with research:
- Graduate students in AAE classes who use the e-Instruction responders will score higher on mid-term and final exams than graduate students in AAE classes who do not use the e-Instruction responders.
- United States government regulation has little effect in the fight against air pollution.
- In the United States, government regulation plays an important role in the fight against air pollution.
- All of these thesis statements can be proven or disproven, and they cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
Significance of research argues for the significance of your research and how it will contribute to the field or the community. Address:
- Why the research is important.
- To whom the research is important
- How the research will contribute to scholarship and/or the community.
Methods of data collection explains in detail how you plan to collect your data. Will you be using quantitative (numbers or amounts) or qualitative (quality or kind) data? Define the terms and variables that you’re using in the study, and be sure to describe how you’ll collect, analyze, and interpret your data. If you are using data that’s already been collected as part of another project, describe where the data are from and how you will access it.
Analysis of data outlines how you plan to analyze the data. How you analyze your data will depend on the research question. Make sure that your analysis will clearly answer your research question.
Benchmarks includes a realistic and thorough timeline, presented as a series of benchmarks. Benchmarks are clearly defined tasks that you can check off as “done.” Some examples: IRB certification, library research/review, collecting data, data analyses, producing a work of art/installations, writing a research paper, presenting research at a conference, and preparing a poster.
Write your proposal to include these elements in order and you’ll be off to a good start. Have a roommate or trusted friend read through your abstract. Is there anywhere that you’re too general? Are your methods not clear? Is your writing clear, or are your sentences unnecessarily complex? Having a friend ask these questions helps you create a better draft. From there, you’ll want to share your proposal with your research advisor for feedback.
Most proposals will be approximately 1,000-1,500 words. If you’ve addressed each of the elements well, don’t add extra words just to hit a specific word count.
Presenting Your Research
Conferences are a great opportunity to learn more about the most current research in your field, to practice speaking about your own research, and to meet professors you might want to research with as a graduate student.
Nebraska Student Research Days and the Nebraska Summer Research Symposium are just two of many opportunities for you to share your research on campus. Some departments also hold research conferences for students at the graduate and undergraduate level. Ask your advisor about these opportunities.
Presenting your research at UNL allows you to practice speaking about your research to a non-specialized audience. It’s also a chance to get feedback from your advisor, graduate students, and other UNL professors.
Then consider attending regional or national disciplinary forums and conferences to present your research. Ask your advisor and any graduate students you interact with about the major disciplinary conferences in your field and smaller conferences.
The Office of Undergraduate Research offers limited travel grants for students who are presenting their research at a regional or national conference. Complete this request form and return to firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for funding.
Share Your Research Success
Have you won an award based on your undergraduate research project? Are you presenting your research at a conference or event? Share your research success with us by completing this form so we can share your success with the broader UNL community and beyond!