College of Arts and Sciences

College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is Undergraduate Research?

The college defines Undergraduate Research as any research or scholarly project that is conducted under the guidance of a faculty mentor, but which is not primarily part of a regular course (including projects conducted for “individual research”).

Why should I participate in Undergraduate Research?

There are many reasons and they vary as much as the students who explore Undergraduate Research. Several key reasons for doing so include:

  • Undergraduate Research provides the opportunity to explore a field in which you may be interested, even if it is outside your major.
  • It can help you to develop skills and experience that will be of use in the job market and your future.
  • You can explore a problem or issue or skill that is of interest to you.
  • You can participate in larger research initiatives that you would normally not encounter in a classroom setting.

How do I start?

Start by exploring a topic of interest, checking departmental websites for current research possibilities or contacting a faculty member with whom you would like to work. Once a project and faculty mentor have been chosen, begin collecting information and/or completing experiments in the lab. Work closely with your faculty mentor because their knowledge and experience will help you to create an outstanding and informative proposal.

Do I need to already have a project in mind?

Not necessarily since it varies among mentors. In some cases professors may have opportunities for student participants in larger research projects in progress. In other cases you may find professors who are able and willing to mentor you in your own research project. Often, professors may be willing to help you develop a research project.

Can any major participate in undergraduate research?

Yes! All majors have much to offer students interested in exploring through research projects. Every CAS department has had students engage in undergraduate research.

Must I be an upper-class student?

NOT AT ALL. Many first and second-year students, when exploring their options, decide on a major that has research possibilities . Through this exploration, skill sets are developed allowing students to move on to positions that really interest them during their junior and senior year. Remember to take your schedule into consideration and allow yourself a nice transition. Get involved in undergraduate research when you’re ready.

Can I do a project outside of my home department?

ABSOLUTELY! There are ample opportunities to pursue any and all interests. Taking time to pursue research outside of your major allows the opportunity to explore and become a well-rounded student. Also, you will find that techniques and principles you have learned may be applied to your chosen field of study. Interdisciplinary synthesis is a powerful tool that you will develop. It is a skill that will be called forth once you leave WIU.

How much time will Undergraduate Research take?

The time commitment for your research depends on many factors including the type of project, your mentor's schedule and your class/outside commitment schedule. When initially considering becoming involved in Undergraduate Research, it is important to decide the level of commitment you are willing to provide. Undergraduate Research is a mutual arrangement between you and your sponsoring faculty advisor. Some students work in excess of twenty hours per week; generally they are working towards an honors thesis or for credit. Students volunteering in a lab may work two to three hours per week. It is a decision that you and your faculty mentor must make in collaboration. There are varying levels of commitment that will fit your schedule. It is important to note that time management is a great skill to develop and working on an outside research project will help to hone this skill. 

What if I do not want to continue the project after a semester?

Some projects can last multiple semesters, but many projects last only a semester, freeing you up for other interests or projects in other departments. As with the general time commitment, you want to make sure you and your mentor discuss the end point in advance of starting the project. If your circumstances or interests change during the project then be sure to discuss those changes with your mentor so no one is surprised or left in the lurch.

Is research funding available?

Yes. The college provides up to $300 in funding for promising projects for any CAS major. These funds can be applied to research supplies and even travel to a conference to present your research. Departments will often augment the college funding when the project justifies additional funding. Also, the The Norman and Carmelita Teeter Undergraduate Research Award is awarded to the most promising grant applications.

Is funding renewable?

Student researchers need to apply for the grants each semester, but it is possible to apply for supplies one semester and for travel the following semester.

What are the rewards of Undergraduate Research?

In addition to hands-on experience, researching a topic of interest allows students to build skills in various research-related tasks including grant writing and budget justification. Mentors who direct your Undergraduate Research can provide detailed recommendation letters for graduate and professional schools since they can address particular skills and projects you have developed. There are also a variety of awards available to undergraduate researchers at college and university levels. Some projects have led to professional publications in which student researchers are listed as authors or co-authors.