Road to Research Seminar Series

Are YOU interested in research? Do you wonder what our faculty actually DO day in and day out, why they do it, and how they got where they are? If you answered YES to any of these questions, come to the Road to Research Seminar Series.

Hear from faculty throughout UC Davis about their path to research, what they research, why what they study is exciting and what impact it has, and why they continue to do what they do! View our Road to Research events page for our flyer and for more information on each speaker and their research.

Finding a Research Mentor

The best way to get to find a research mentor is by attending office hours on a regular basis. Your faculty instructors may be your future research mentor, or they can help you find a research mentor. This all depends on your ability to form a relationship! Attend office hours and strike up a conversation! Alternatively, below are some suggestions for you.

Begin by identifying potential research mentors:

  1. Determine what interests you the most in your discipline. Find a research area that you want to dedicate time and energy to learning more about. For example, molecular biology, plant conservation, or perhaps something that is interdisciplinary like wildlife health.
  2. Use the CBS faculty directory to identify facultywithin the college working in your area of interest. Talk to friends who are already doing research to get their advice about potential mentors. If you are not sure what research area interests you, then start by doing a general review of faculty research in the academic department in which you are majoring. But also think broadly! Search for faculty in the other UC Davis colleges, or the UC Davis Medical School, Nursing School, or in Veterinary Medicine who may also be doing research you find compelling. View the links below to view research across the disciplines in more than 50 UC Davis-affiliated centers and programs, the six professional schools and four undergraduate colleges.
  3. Every faculty member’s research usually centers on some core research questions – do these questions resonate with your personal interests? Use Google Scholar or the UC Davis library online databases to look up the faculty member’s recent publications and read them. Generate a ranked list of potential mentors based on your searches. Identify at least one thing about each person’s research that is interesting to you and that you would like to know more about. Write down your own research questions; do not be embarrassed if your questions seem basic or vague – everyone starts this way!

Contact potential research mentors

Email is a good way to make initial contact with potential mentors. By sending an email you give a mentor a chance to review your materials before responding. It is essentially the first step in an interview, so be sure the email reflects your best effort. Make absolutely sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors, use formal language, and keep it brief. If you are comfortable, it is also fine to phone or stop by a potential mentor’s office hours to ask about a research experience.

When you are writing your email(s), consider the following:

  • Research mentors are busy people, so keep your email short and to the point (approximately 1 paragraph).
  • Use the mentor’s official title (eg. Professor or Dr.)
  • Specifically refer to the areas of the mentor’s research that you find interesting, and tell them briefly why you are interested. Be sure to use your own words and do not copy text from the research description on his/her website. Your mentor is expecting you to be new to science, but will want to see that you can articulate clearly the specific areas of science that you are interested in pursuing.
  • Be clear that you are looking for a research experience. Clearly define your main goal (e.g. shadowing someone in the lab to get exposed to research vs. doing an honors thesis research project).
  • Highlight what you have to offer: what distinguishes you from other students (e.g. prior experience, specific lab skills already used in the researcher’s lab, the number of hours per week you can devote, specific courses you have completed that are relevant to the research at hand).
  • Show enthusiasm for learning how to do research (there is no expectation you will do it perfectly at this point, but you should be eager to learn)!
  • Finally, request that if the mentor is not able to take an undergraduate researcher, that she/he recommend a colleague who might be.

You may wish to attach the following to your email:

  • An up-to-date copy of your resume that highlights the skills you have to contribute to the lab;
  • Provide a brief estimate of the number of hours/credits you can be available to do research, and when you would like to begin, but leave room for negotiation;
  • Give a brief overview of your academic credentials (e.g. your GPA and relevant course work), or attach a PDF of your unofficial transcript;
  • Provide your complete contact information (email, phone, mail).
  • Do not write one email and send it to all research mentors regardless of how they differ in their research interests. Form emails are easy to spot and easy to delete. Make sure each email is short, personal, and captivating.
  • Do not expect an answer immediately. Give your potential research mentor 3-5 days to respond.
  • Do follow-up if your email goes un-answered. Researchers are busy people who get numerous inquiries about their research daily. Be polite, but persistent and re-send your email if you have not heard back in 5 days. Remember that many researchers travel during the summer months, so you should time your email inquiries carefully.

If you are invited to meet with a future research mentor:

  • Be on time;
  • Be yourself, but it will be helpful if you come across as enthusiastic and motivated;
  • Be ready to discuss why you want to do research in general (what are you academic and career goals?), and why do you want to do research with this mentor specifically (what is it about his/her research that is interesting to you? Is there a particular project on which you would like to work?);
  • Read about the researcher’s work before you meet with them. There is usually a research overview on the researcher’s website with references and links to published work. Or use Google Scholar or Web of Science (through the UC Davis library) to download recent publications. Read one or two of the researcher’s papers and prepare questions. Generally, mentors will not expect you to fully understand the research, but making the effort to learn about it on your own shows independence and motivation.
  • Ask about the expectations of undergraduate researchers in the lab (e.g. time commitment, credits offered, type of work). In general, three to five hours of research per week is worth one academic credit.
  • Ask about who would be your direct mentor in the group. Often researchers work with postdoctoral scholars or graduate students and you may only have limited contact with the researcher themselves.
  • Bring a copy of your unofficial transcripts if you have not already submitted one.

Important: Research groups have limited space, so it may be difficult to find a research mentor that is looking for, or willing to take, another students. Do not take it personally if they decline your request. You may go through all ten (or more) potential mentors before you find a match. Stick with it! You will find someone.

Research Resources

Undergraduate Research Center: Provides support and guidance as you look for research opportunities. The Center also hosts an anual Undergraduate Research Conference.

Internship and Career Center: Provides assistance finding jobs and internships. Visit Aggie Job Link to find posted positions.

UC Davis Research for Students: Learn more about hands-on research conducted at UC Davis. Discover UC Davis Graduate Studies.

UC Davis Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching Programs: Learn more about faculty research across the disciplines in more than 50 UC Davis-affiliated centers, institutes, and programs.

UC Davis Schools and College Research: View the diverse areas of research that is currently being conducted in the four undergraduate colleges and the six professional and graduate schools UC Davis has to offer.

Egghead Blog: Egghead is a blog about research by, with or related to UC Davis. Stay connected to UC Davis research and discover why UC Davis is a premiere research university. View the latest research questions, methods, and discoveries at UC Davis.

UC Davis Medical School: search for "internship opportunities"

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine