Undergraduate Research – What It Is and How to Get Involved


By Mira Bhimani, SCS Advising Leader 

Do you want to discover a catalyst or anti-cancer drug, develop new kinds of materials or instrumental techniques, or study the behavior of matter at any length scale from small molecules to large proteins and entire cells? Undergraduate research is an opportunity for undergraduates to join a professor’s research group on campus. This is a great opportunity to apply classroom knowledge to help solve problems in the world and understand the actual applications of each principle learned in class. Research can be performed during each semester for academic credit and during the summer for a stipend. It is a very enriching experience with a lot of learning objectives. Prospective employers and graduate schools also strongly value when a student has undergraduate research experience.

The U of I is a very happening place in terms of research and many interesting projects are going on. By joining one of these projects, you will be a part of something quite big and important, which is a nice feeling to have. You will work closely with a faculty mentor, which will help you gain valuable skills and learn a lot about chemistry and lab work. You can explore real-world applications within your field of interest and find out what your passions are.

Research areas in chemistry at Illinois include analytical chemistry, chemical biology, inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry. You can choose an area based on your interests and future career plans. Then explore the list of faculty members conducting research in that area. Spend some time to read about their work and familiarize yourself with their research. Finally, choose one faculty member whose research you connect with and want to be a part of, and reach out to them by cold email. Introduce yourself and express your interest in their lab. It may be beneficial to also include your resume and academic transcript. Do not be discouraged if they take a while to reply, just send a follow-up email after 2 weeks. They might want to schedule a meeting with you to get to know you and your interests so that they can assign you on a project that fits. They will also expect you to commit to their lab for a minimum of two semesters.

I am involved in undergraduate research myself, and I love it! I spend time in the lab of my research group conducting experiments and studying advanced chemical reactions. I started with very little knowledge about the kind of chemistry that I was expected to perform, but that was okay because my mentor was there to teach me everything from scratch and explain concepts to me. All I had to do was be enthusiastic, willing to learn, and show up to the lab every time. I strongly encourage all undergraduates in chemistry to look into undergraduate research opportunities because it will definitely be a highlight of your undergraduate career.