So you’re an undergrad looking to get involved in research—good for you!

Prof. Fox gave a short presentation on “Getting Started in Ugrad Research” on November 15,5:30 pm, in the Woz Lounge, which was well attended. (Thanks to Miyoko Tsubamoto for posting the photo)

The ResearchMatch application, designed by your own colleagues who are alumni of Prof. Fox’s CS169 course,  is designed to make it easy to find listings that match your skills, availability and interests.

But before you browse them, here are some tips that should help your search.

The single biggest failure mode/source of problems in undergraduate research, whether for pay or for credit, is overestimating how much time you’ll have available and/or underestimating the effort required for your courseload or the research project. Spending 3 or 4 hours every other week on a project is essentially wasted time—yours and the project’s—and the project leaders won’t be happy about it.

Continuity: It takes time to come up to speed and begin contributing to a project.  If you’re only available on and off or for a short time, it’ll be hard to hire you.  Usually the minimum amount of time is a full semester (or summer), and many positions are open-ended where you could continue beyond that if things were going well.

Availability:  Contributing to a research project takes time.  Think of it as the equivalent of a 2 to 3 unit CS course.  If you don’t have at least 6 to 8 hours per week available to spend, it’ll be hard for you to contribute.

The right reasons: A good reason to try research is to see if you enjoy it and might want to consider graduate school, or if you want to learn more about an area than what you are learning in courses.  A very, very bad reason is to get the checkbox on your resume that says “I did research.”  The checkbox is not useful unless accompanied by a strong letter from your research supervisor(s), and that letter will reflect your actual contributions to the project.

Dependability: Most groups who hire undergrads to do research actually have work that needs to be done—they’re not creating work specifically for you to do.  That means if the work isn’t getting done, the project is being affected.  Remember that by signing up to do this you’re committing that you will do your best to help.

Persistence:  Faculty and grad students can get really busy.  If you don’t get a response to your email, try again, and again.  It’s nothing personal!

Initiative:  A big difference between research and courses is that research is not driven by the structured deadlines that characterize courses.  You need to take the initiative to bug your research supervisors or colleagues when you run into a wall, or solve a problem and are ready to tackle the next challenge.  Don’t assume that they will constantly check in with you to ask how things are going.  If there is a weekly meeting for the members of the project, make every effort to go so you can stay up to date on what everyone else is doing.