Undergraduate Research Opportunities
The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology encourages all undergraduates- and especially chemistry majors- to participate in research. The opportunity to participate in an internationally recognized research program is a major advantage of attending a research university like UNM. Undergraduate research provides a direct connection to faculty. Your research director can become an invaluable mentor- a source of information on fellowships, career opportunities and graduate programs. Starting research in sophomore or junior year helps prepare students for senior level courses, improving understanding and retention. Graduating seniors in CCB who participated in research frequently cite that experience as a key to their personal and professional development.
Employers and graduate/professional schools will usually request letters of recommendation from faculty- a research adviser who knows your accomplishments and experience is invaluable in the application process. When you interview for a job or a fellowship, your research project often becomes the focus of the discussion. As a chemistry major, you may use research credits to meet the upper-level elective requirements for your degree.
Selecting a research adviser
Selecting a research adviser is an important process, and it is worth spending some time to make a good choice. Ideally you would like an adviser with whom you have a good personal relationship and whose research group ‘dynamic’ you enjoy. The research project should be in an area you find interesting and should require skills you have or can acquire.
You might begin by considering the instructors of your favorite classes or faculty whose students seem to enjoy their work- what sort of research do they do? You should browse the faculty section of the departmental website, including the “lab page” or “personal page” of each professor (https://chemistry.unm.edu/people/faculty/faculty.html). Talk to your TAs- does their research sound interesting? Who is their research adviser?
Once you have a short list of potential advisers, arrange to meet with them to discuss possible projects. (Many faculty would prefer an email to arrange an appointment and might ask you to prepare for the meeting by reading a website or short article; for others, you could “drop in” when their office door is open.) In addition to discussing the science and potential projects, be sure to ask about expectations including:
Work schedule- how many hours per week? particular required times?
Project length- does the adviser want a 2-semester commitment? Summer?
Special working conditions- For example, could you arrange to run a 6-hour reaction once a week? Can you attend group meetings at a set time?
Special skills- Do you program in Fortran? Python? Have you finished CHEM 302?
Credit- How many CH should you register for? A useful guideline is that 1 CH of search credit is like 1 CH of upper-level lab, ~5 hours/week. Is funding available for summer research?
Select an adviser based on your interests and preferences and prepare for a second meeting to finalize the project and your expected duties. If you wish to receive academic credit for research which can count as upper-level elective credit toward a chemistry degree, be sure to let the adviser know to give you permission to sign up (see below). Be sure to inform the other faculty with whom you met so they do not “reserve” a project for you.
Research for academic credit
Signing up for research credits is not like registering for other courses. The “research courses” in CCB are CHEM 495 and 496 (most projects) and CHEM 497 and CHEM 498 (Senior Honors research projects); you can only register for a particular section with the permission of the faculty. You must first select a research adviser (see above) and agree to a project and a suitable number of credit hours. Only after the adviser has given permission will you be able to register.
Research credit hours count as normal credit hours (CH) for purposes of tuition, student status, etc. However, these credit hours also have some benefits and restrictions:
Up to two research CH may count towards the required elective hours for the BA in Chemistry; up to three research CH may count towards the required elective hours for the BS in Chemistry.
Up to three research credit hours may count toward the ACS certified degree requirements.
Up to four research credit hours may count toward the 120 CH total for a bachelor’s degree.
In some cases, you may wish to work for a research adviser who is not a CCB faculty member (primary or secondary appointment). For example, in recent years chemistry majors have worked with faculty research advisers from Biology, Chemical Engineering, Earth Sciences and Medicine. In these cases, no section of CHEM 495/496 will be available since the adviser is not CCB faculty. If you wish the research conducted with an out-of-department adviser to count towards your elective requirement, you should
- first submit a brief summary of the proposed research to the department, and then
- meet with the CCB department chair (or designate) to explain the chemical content of the proposed work (your adviser may also be asked to attend this meeting).
If the project is suitable, the department will then allow research credits from the adviser’s department to be substituted for CHEM research credit hours for your degree.
Research projects are expected to lead to a written report of some type. For CHEM 495 and 496, this can be a research paper (format specified by the adviser), poster, or contribution to a manuscript; for Senior Honors, it should be a formal thesis.
You may be paid to perform research, usually because
- you’ve been working on a project with a faculty member for academic credit but don’t really need more CH or
- you are part of a fellowship or summer program
Programs and organizations funding undergraduate research include:
A partnership between CCB Profs. Walker and He and the National Center for Genetically Encoded Materials (https://gem-net.net/) funds students to work over the summer at UNM or at a partner institution.
Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement is an Honors undergraduate research program funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The Undergraduate Pipeline Network funds summer research at the Health Sciences Center
Ronald McNair Scholars & Research Opportunity Program are aimed at First-generation students and those from underrepresented groups interested in eventually attending graduate school.
The Undergraduate Research, Arts and Design Network has a variety of resources that may help you look for research opportunities.
Research fellowships and student stipends are available with CCB faculty and other departments and other schools, particularly over the summer. These are usually competitive awards that may have specific requirements, and summer fellowships will typically have application dates early in the Spring semester. For a list of endowed research fellowships in CCB, see https://chemistry.unm.edu/student-info/undergraduate/awards-and-applications.html. For a list of summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) sites funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation) see www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.jsp?unitid=5048