Getting started: How does undergraduate research work?

MGG field course 2019 - Brooks McCall

Getting started is easy.

There are many different ways to learn about research opportunities. You can browse faculty websites, attend an information session, or connect with a guest speaker after their talk.

There are many different kinds of research opportunities. Some allow you to independently pursue a project as a thesis or for course credit, while others are more like a job or internship where you receive training and experience, and sometimes get paid.

Here are some of the ways you can do research as an undergraduate:

Conducting independent research for course credit

You can arrange to conduct a research project for course credit. The first step is getting in touch with a researcher within the Jackson School (Department of Geological Sciences, Bureau of Economic Geology, or University of Texas Institute for Geophysics) or across campus. You arrange with the researcher how you will earn the credit.

Pro Tip!

When contacting professors or research scientists about opportunities…

  • attend seminars and presentations to learn about research in fields you’re interested in and approach the presenter if something they discussed has sparked your interest.
  • take a class with a professor whose research interests you and engage with them in office hours or after class about research opportunities.
  • practice writing introductory emails to professors. Use online guides for cold emailing about working in a lab, for example here and here.

Completing an undergraduate thesis

The Jackson School offers programs where you perform research and write a thesis:

If you want to complete a thesis, but are not enrolled in these programs, you can still conduct and write-up independent research, but not technically complete a thesis. Consider taking Curiosity to Question, or contacting potential research supervisors to discuss this.

Participating in research

Sometimes, there are opportunities where you can contribute to ongoing research at the Jackson School to gain exposure to field or lab methods. In cases where field work is involved, you are expected to contribute to field work but your room, board and travel are paid for. To find out about research opportunities visit Research opportunities: Ways to get involved.

Don’t forget, Research Friday means you can dedicate every Friday to conducting or learning about research.

In some cases, you can get paid to work in a lab on campus or to conduct research at the Jackson School. You can also be paid for research you do through an NSF REU with researchers outside of the university.

Summer research

There are different types of summer research experiences with different degrees of formality.

NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Sites program. The NSF funds and provides information about many summer research experiences through the REU Sites program. The programs take place during the summer months and can be at a location in the US or internationally. Applications must be made through the host institution. Stipends are available.

Conducting research within Jackson School courses

Some courses at DGS emphasize research methods and research design:

  • Curiosity to Question
  • Proposal Writing (GEO 191)

Many more courses include significant independent projects as part of the coursework:

Student Perspectives

Get an insider’s view on what it’s like to do research as a student!

A student’s guide to undergraduate research

Patty Standring: Who are the next generation of Earth and Space scientists?