Your research will take you out of a traditional classroom, where you learn content for your particular area, and involves you in the process of academic scholarship, which is how new discoveries are made. The benefits to you include:
- You will learn the basic research methodologies for your discipline.
- You will develop a close working relationship with a faculty research mentor, who can also provide career advice and letters of recommendation.
- You will generate a body of your own work, which you can present at meetings, both on the UMSL campus and at appropriate professional meetings off-campus.
- You may be able to co-author scholarly publications that include the results from your research.
- Your participation in undergraduate research, your presentations at meetings, and any publications from your research all become important parts of your resume. Employers typically place a high value on these types of outside-the-classroom activities.
Recognition as a research university is based primarily on the breadth and depth of the graduate programs. Not all universities are considered “research universities.” Much of the research is carried out by graduate students who are working to obtain their doctoral degree. Faculty at research universities are evaluated and promoted largely based on research productivity, typically measured by the publication of books and/or peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals. According to the Carnegie Foundation, only 6 universities in Missouri are classified as research universities: UMSL and the other three campuses of the University of Missouri, Washington University, and St. Louis University. Thus UMSL is the only public research university in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Although most of research projects involve graduate students, at UMSL we strongly encourage you to take advantage of the excellent work that is in progress on the campus and participate as an undergraduate research student. You should take advantage of the opportunity to work with faculty members who are recognized nationally and internationally as distinguished scholars in their specific research area.
The answer to this question varies considerably from department to department. Some departments are happy to involve first and second year students in UG research. Other departments prefer that students take courses for a couple of years to give themselves the basic content area knowledge they need to tackle a meaningful research project. Look under the departmental Links on this page. Each department explains what background is necessary to start an UG research project.
The selection of a research mentor is a mutual consent process. Both the student and the advisor agree that they want to proceed with the project. To make your search for an advisor more efficient, the SRO has identified faculty members who routinely accept UG research students. There is a list of faculty members beneath each Department link. When you select a faculty member from the list, you will be taken to a personal page that will describe the faculty member's academic background and the type of research in which they are involved. The selection of a mentor should focus on a mutual interest. If you are interested in civil war history, look for someone who studies the civil war. But don’t go the civil war historian and ask to do a project on colonial American history. The idea is for you to leverage the specialized expertise of the faculty member. You want the faculty member to be a recognized expert in your area of interest. You will learn more, and you will have more opportunities to present and publish your work.
There is no single way to identify a research mentor. But in general, we suggest the following sequence.
- Identify the department in which you want to work. This is typically the department in which your UG major resides, but this is not required.
- Look at the general departmental requirements for UG research. Have you had the necessary coursework specified by your department?
- Look at the research interests that are described on each faculty member’s personal page. Identify a faculty member who is working in an area that is of personal interest to you.
- Contact the faculty member (usually email works best) and request a meeting to discuss your interest in undergraduate research.
Do your homework and be prepared to ask some questions about the research area. The highest priority is to confirm that you and the potential mentor share a mutual interest in a specific research area. If it turns out that there is no common interest with the faculty member, don’t be afraid to move on and talk with other potential research mentors. You are going to put a lot of work into this. You need to make sure that you have found an appropriate research topic.
When you meet with your prospective faculty mentor, you should inquire as to what their rules are for their research group. Some questions to ask them might be:
- How many credit hours should you register for?
- How many hours per week are expected per credit hour?
- Should the project be spread over one or two semesters?
- When does the work need to be done? Can you do it all at night and on weekends, or do you need to overlap with your mentor during regular business hours?
- Do you have plans for any extended absences that need to be taken into account?
- What type of final written report is expected at the end of your project?
Don’t worry about it. It may well have nothing to do with your personal qualifications. They may already have their personal quota of undergraduate students and feel like they cannot handle another at that time. They may be anticipating a semester in which they will have a heavy teaching load, or unusually heavy travel, and feel like they will not have the time to serve as a research mentor. So don’t take it personally. Just move on and identify a new potential mentor.
There are two basic models for undergraduate research programs at UMSL.
- Classroom model: In a few departments, there are specific courses that incorporate an explicit research component into the overall class structure. There might still be lectures and exams, but a significant portion of your “class time” would be allocated to working on a research project. The instructor of the course would serve as your research advisor. The UMSL Honors College has a list of undergraduate courses that they accept for undergraduate research credit. You can view that list of courses here.
- Mentorship model: In most departments, undergraduate research is arranged as a one-on-one working relationship between the student and a faculty research mentor. It is very much a partnership between the two. Often credit hours can be associated with the research, and in some cases these “research credits” can be used to fulfill elective hours in your bachelor’s degree program. But it is not a lecture course with homework and exams. You will earn the credit hours by performing your research project.
Most undergraduate research at UMSL is rewarded with credit hours, which you can count toward the 120 credit hours that you need to graduate. Many departments will also allow you to use research credit hours as advanced electives in their degree program. However, there is nothing that precludes you from also receiving a stipend while you work on your research project. The funding for stipends would normally come from an external research grant held by your research mentor. Thus any arrangements for a stipend would be negotiated directly by your and your mentor. The Department is not normally involved in this decision.