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The University of Michigan is a top tier research university. This presents a great deal of opportunity for our students to be on the cutting edge of research in their chosen field, in an ‘apprentice’ role. Many faculty would argue that education by doing research is as important as your studies in the classroom. It is the environment where you will apply what you have learned in class most directly. You will also learn important skills that cannot be taught in class, such as self-direction, handling vague problems, and learning how to ‘learn’ on your own. Our best and brightest students at the University have always been very engaged in research.
Getting Started in Research
As a student, your goal should be to engage in at least one year of research experience. Many students begin in their first or second years, but each situation is different. Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. We've provided a few helpful hints below to point you in the right direction.
What Types of Research Are Available?
There are many different ways to go about getting involved in research. Some options include summer REU programs, PHYSICS 415, the CERN Semester Abroad Program, and working directly in faculty labs. The most common way to get involved is to work in a faculty lab. Some of those positions are even paid! Information about REU and PHYSICS 415 can be found lower on this page. There is a subpage for the CERN Semester Abroad Program as well.
How Should I Approach Research?
Research should be thought of as a job. You should be willing to approach the tasks with enthusiasm, hard work, and attention to detail. A strong research record can be as important as your GPA in an application to graduate school or on a job application in a position in industry.
What Do I Need To Apply for a Position?
A strong GPA is a key factor that most faculty do consider when students apply, but not the only important part of an application. Be sure to highlight skills and interests that would help to make you successful. If you have any letters of recommendation, those can be included as well.
How Do I Get A Position?
First, start by reaching out to faculty. Put together a resume or CV. Try to highlight any classes or skills that might fit well with the research you're interested in. Resume writing resources can be found through the UM Career Center and you can even make an appointment to attend resume writing labs. Email faculty who do research that match your interests, but don't be too picky. In your email, be sure to convey your excitement in the work and why you would be a strong fit for their group. Ask if they would be willing to meet to discuss the work and any potential positions. Be sure to attach you resume and your transcript. If you are willing to take an unpaid position, you may offer to take PHYSICS 415.
I've Tried Contacting Faculty But I Haven't Been Successful. What Now?
If you've tried reaching out to faculty and don't get a position, be sure to ask for feedback. Some questions to ask include: Were my grades sufficient? Are you looking for someone with a particular skill set, and if so, what skills? Do you foresee positions opening in the near future?
Use this feedback to craft your future communications and applications. Also, consider widening your scope to other faculty or groups. Remember, the goal is to get your foot in the door. If you do a great job, it's easier to move around into new positions.
Who Can Help?
If you've already communicated with faculty and are still having a hard time, we're here to help! The Physics Department has a current faculty member who serves as the Undergraduate Research Coodinator. This year, Professor Tom Schwarz is filling this role. If you're having trouble finding a position, please email him with questions or to set up an appointment.
Enrolling in an Independent Study Course
PHYSICS 415: Independent Study: This course emphasizes experimental or theoretical research under the supervision of a faculty member. Generally a small facet of a large research undertaking is investigated in detail.
PHYSICS 496/497: Senior Thesis I/II: Students get introductory experience and research work with faculty, the results of which could provide the basis for a senior thesis project. Students who do not complete their thesis research in PHYSICS 496, may continue to PHYSICS 497.
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Program
The National Science Foundation funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU Site consists of a group of ten or so undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other researchers. Students are granted stipends and, in many cases, assistance with housing and travel. Undergraduate students supported with NSF funds must be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions. An REU Site may be at either a US or foreign location.
Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)
This program is designed for first and second year undergraduate students who are seeking a first time research experience. Student research assistants work alongside a faculty member, research scientist or professional practitioner on an ongoing or new research project.
Summer Research within the Department
The Physics Department offers a summer research program for undergraduate majors, when departmental funding allows. The participating students are matched with faculty mentors with whom they will work over the course of the summer months. The positions are paid and the number of positions varies from year to year. They're separate from faculty-funded positions. For those inquiries, we would encourage you to reach out to the specific faculty member that you would like to work with. The Student Services Office sends out an application for department-funded research positions shortly before the end of the Winter semester, typically in late March or early April. If you have questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you!