Research Opportunities
Undergraduate Research Frequently Asked Questions

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What sorts of things will I do in research?

This depends entirely on the lab. Often undergraduates work closely with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Whether you are given a project that is entirely yours will depend on the time you spend in the lab, your capabilities, and the nature of research in a particular lab.

Generally you should expect to produce a written document about what you have done, perhaps each quarter.

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How much time will research take?

Research expands to fill the available time. You should discuss the time expectations with your academic adviser, and with your research adviser. If you are taking 399 Independent Study, it will count as one unit, so you should plan to spend at least as much time on research as you spend on another course.

Your department may allow you to take 399 as a technical elective or as an unrestricted elective. Check with your department for details.

Be sure to check with your academic adviser if you are uncertain whether a 399 in a particular department will "count" as a credit towards your graduation. It is not unusual for a student to accumulate several quarters of 399 by the time of graduation.

During the summer, research can easily be a full-time job, and this is often the best time to get a lot done.

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Will I get paid for research?

During the academic year it is uncommon for students to be paid, unless they are work-study students. If you are registered for 399, you cannot be paid. You are not allowed to be paid for conducting research as a work-study student and also use this as a 399.

During the summer, payment is more common, but is not universal. You will have to discuss this with your adviser.

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How does this fit into departmental honors?

You will need to check with your department to see whether your research can contribute to part of an honors program.

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Can I have an adviser outside my own department?

Yes. There are many opportunities in other departments, at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and even at the medical school. Depending on your major, you may be particularly valued by other labs because you have technical or quantitative expertise. Ideally you may be able to bring engineering to bear in a way that your adviser may not have foreseen.

When doing multiple terms of 399 work, however, be careful about meeting graduation requirements. Be sure to check with your academic adviser if you are uncertain whether a 399 in a particular department will "count" as a credit towards your graduation.

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Is research only for those interested in becoming researchers or professors? Why should I do research if I want to go into industry?

It is not true that research is only for those interested in becoming researchers or professors in the future.

Research provides you with the necessary skill sets that employers are often looking for in prospective employees. Being a good researcher implies you have:

  • strong analytical skills
  • problem solving skills
  • patience and determination in finding answers to previously unexplored questions

In addition, career and academic interests evolve as you progress in life. You should certainly give research a try at some point. No matter your career goals, research skills will only provide stronger credentials for you to argue your case wherever you go.