Undergraduate Research 101: Guide/Tips/Do’s and Don’ts – Part 1

I remember the time when I was a newbie searching the internet and seeking the advice of people to give my best as an undergraduate researcher.

I believe I will save your time and efforts with the tried-and-tested compilation of pointers to optimize your undergraduate research experience if you are aiming for an undergraduate thesis or a research internship.

This article will be in the form of a checklist which you can use to assess if you are following some essential pointers.

Outline

  1. Checklist for how to Set Goal: To Produce
  2. Checklist for how to Communicate Clear Expectations
  3. Checklist for how to Prepare for a Meeting with Mentor
  4. Checklist for how to Learn by Observing
  5. Resources
  1. Set Goal: To Produce

Most mentors aren’t as interested in how hard you work as they are in what you can produce (research contribution, for example, a research paper). It’s almost always better to be ugly and produce something than to have a great approach and not come up with anything. So, give it all till you see tangible results of your learnings. Seek the guidance of your mentor on:

  • What is the state of the art and its problems – which one are you solving? 
  • What are the relevant conferences or journals to contribute?

2. Communicate Clear Expectations

To align so that your mentor gets the output s/he wants and you get the best learning experience, both of you should discuss the expectations from each other.

Brownie points: Once you are clear with the expectations, be proactive and do something that you were not asked to.

  • What is the best way for the student to contact the mentor with questions? Emails/one-on-one/WhatsApp?
  • How often will the student meet the mentor? 
  • Should the student prepare anything (presentations, etc.) for these meetings?
  • When should the student get help from their MS student mentor or PhD student mentor, and when should they contact the faculty mentor?
  • Should the student send the mentor weekly email updates on the project progress? What information should be included in these updates?
  • Who were the undergraduate alumni of the research group?  (Connect with them and ask them about their mistakes – you will be prepared not to repeat them.)

3. Prepare for the Meeting with Mentor

Most mentors are busy professors. You want to make the best use of the time they are giving to you.

  • Schedule the meeting by yourself after requesting your mentor or his/her secretary for time . Don’t wait for your mentor to ask you.
  • If you have not heard from your mentor within one week of contacting, it is acceptable to send a gentle reminder.
  • Send a draft-agenda before the meeting, attach an explanatory text describing precisely what you would like to discuss at the next meeting and why. 
  • At an actual meeting, you can start by providing an assessment of the work you have done. What are you satisfied with and what do you find problematic?
  • Request your supervisor to tell you what is good in your work (as this will help you to understand what to keep up) and any weak points that need to be improved.
  • Ask closed-ended questions in the meeting. Be prepared for expected questions the mentor can ask.
  • After each meeting, send a summary of the meeting to your mentor – what you presented, work-plan for next week. Also, attach your ppt.

4. Learn by Observing

Try to observe the MS/PhD students in your research group.

  • How do they perform research systematically?
  • What do they do when they get stuck?
  • Try to observe the way they think. When they have an idea, how do they communicate it effectively?
  • When and why do they decide to give up and try something else? (Yes, it is practically acceptable, especially when you hit a limitation of, for example, your circuit.)

I will cover a step-by-step process of undergraduate research in Part 2 to remove the vagueness associated with it and some essential soft-skills for an undergraduate researcher in Part 3.

5. Resources

Meanwhile, link to an article published in Nature that I found good:

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00871-x

From UC Berkeley:

https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~pister/etc/urtips.html

Thank you for reading.

I am in a learning phase, if you wish to add, I am open to learn from you.

Let’s spread the love 🙂

-Awani

6 thoughts on “Undergraduate Research 101: Guide/Tips/Do’s and Don’ts – Part 1

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