Getting Started in Research
If you are thinking about getting involved in undergraduate research, this workshop is a great place to start! You will get a broad overview of the research opportunities available to undergraduates on campus, as well as advice on how to find and work with a faculty mentor and/or get into a lab.
We will also let you know about upcoming deadlines and eligibility requirements for some of UC-Berkeley’s most popular undergraduate research opportunities, such as the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP), Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), Rose Hills Summer Scholarships, and the Robert and Colleen Haas Scholars Program, a senior capstone experience for all majors.
The workshop is open to all UC-Berkeley students regardless of major, but it may be especially useful for freshmen and sophomores. Any academically motivated student who is curious about campus funding opportunities for original research or creative projects will likely find the “getting started” workshop useful.
To attend a”getting started” workshop, please check the OURS Events Calendar for current times, dates, and locations.
Video of the Getting Started Presentation from August 2021
How to Email a Professor (cold-calling) Workshop
Do you need to email someone you’ve never met before to ask for their help, but you don’t know where to start? Have you ever written a long email to a professor, only to receive no response? If so, this workshop is for you! We will discuss how to present yourself professionally over email to faculty and other professionals so that you make a great first impression.
The workshop is open to all UC-Berkeley students (undergraduate, graduate, and visiting scholars) regardless of academic discipline. It is generally offered once every two weeks from August to March. Please check the OURS Events Calendar for current times, dates, and locations.
UC-Berkeley Faculty Expertise Database
- Writing a Research Proposal Handout
- FAQ re Haas Schol rec letters+ ltrs of support 12-19-18 (1)
- Advice regarding online recommendations
- Faculty advice on asking for recommendation letters
- estalishing a good relationship with your mentor
- Carroll 2011, Getting Started in Research Workshop Notes
STEP #1: Identify Potential Candidates
Here are some strategies you can use to identify faculty members who might be a good fit for you and your project…
- Make a list of faculty members with whom you have taken courses and whose work has inspired or influenced your intellectual interests.
- Attend lectures on campus to familiarize yourself with other faculty members outside your courses. Check the Daily Cal and the Berkeleyan , visit the UC Calendar of Events website at https://events.berkeley.edu/, and check departmental postings for information on scheduled lectures and presentations.
- Consider the interdisciplinary implications of your interests and identify all relevant departments–including professional schools–that may house potential mentors. Donít limit yourself to your major department!
- Check departmental websites for up-to-date information on faculty research interests and publications.
- Visit departmental offices and request information from staff on faculty research interests and availability. The departmental graduate assistant can often be an especially good source of information.
- Look at recent course listings — for both undergrad and grad — in relevant departments to find out what faculty members are teaching. Many departments publish their own course listings.
- Ask other faculty members which of their colleagues share your research interests.
- Talk to fellow students, especially seniors involved in research and/or those active in the majors association — to find out which faculty members specialize in areas relevant to your proposed research project. GSIs or other graduate students are an especially good source of information about faculty research interests.
…you don’t need to do all of these–just choose a few. Your goal is to make a list of 5-10 professors who might be good mentor candidates.
STEP #2: Approaching Potential Candidates
- Find out when potential mentors hold office hours by consulting postings in the departments, on the web, or on faculty office doors. Avoid calling on the phone; let the faculty members manage their own time as they choose.
- Do your homework before you go to office hours; inform yourself about the faculty member’s research interests, areas of specialization and/or publications. Be able to state why you are seeking out this particular personis advice.
- Consider attending the professional communication workshop offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research for in-depth information on how to make a great first impression.
- Before speaking with a faculty member, know what you wish to get out of the meeting: feedback on a research or creative project idea? Help defining the purpose or scope of a project?
- Suggestions for further background reading? Advice about designing a research instrument or plan? Information about laboratory facilities or equipment? You are running this meeting, so it is important to have an agenda, both to use time efficiently and to show that you are serious about your purpose.
- Don’t go in empty handed: have with you a paragraph summarizing your research project/interests, your transcript, your resume, and a list of specific questions/requests for guidance.
- Before leaving the meeting, think about what kind of follow-up you would like to have with the faculty member. If you have established a good rapport and would like to develop an ongoing working relationship, ask if she would be willing to meet with you again to look at a draft of your research proposal, to answer additional questions about a topic you have discussed, or for some other specific purpose.
- If there isn’t a good match between your interests and those of the faculty member, ask him to suggest other colleagues you might approach. Even if this particular individual has been very helpful, it may be useful to ask for additional suggestions of people to speak with, since the more input you get in developing your proposal, the better.
- Be confident and assertive about asking for help, but keep the length of your meeting within the established time limit (e.g. 15 minute or 10 minute slots). It is important to be considerate both of the faculty member, who faces many demands on her time, as well as your fellow students waiting outside the door.
STEP #3: Asking for Sponsorship
Once you have identified a faculty member you’d like to work with as a mentor, you will need to ask that person to make a commitment to serve as your faculty sponsor or advisor. Clearly communicate what kind of time commitment you are asking for and what the mentor’s commitments will be.
Give your sponsor a copy of your research proposal, if appropriate, as well as any forms she/he will need to fill out to establish a formal advising relationship. If letters of recommendation need to be submitted under separate cover (i.e. via snail-mail), include a stamped, addressed envelope directed to the appropriate party as a courtesy to the faculty member. Be sure to allow plenty of lead time before deadlines and make sure your sponsor knows when forms are due. Arrange a date to check back with the faculty member to verify that forms have been submitted.
STEP #4: Be Persistent!
If a faculty member declines to serve as your sponsor, don’t be discouraged! A negative response likely says more about the professor is prior commitments than it does about the merits of your project.
If you’ve followed the advice in step 1, just go on to the next potential mentor on your list. You may need to approach many professors before receiving a “yes” response, but be persistent. It may take time, but you will eventually succeed in finding a sponsor. If you’re planning ahead now to do interesting research later, you are by definition the kind of highly motivated student that makes the work of being a university professor worthwhile.
Finally, feel free to come by the Office of Undergraduate Research for individual advice on finding a mentor–we are always happy to help.
UC-Berkeley Faculty Expertise Database
How to Write a Research Proposal Workshop
If you need to write a grant proposal, this workshop is for you! In 60 minutes, you will get a head start on defining your research question, developing a project plan, presenting your qualifications, and creating a realistic budget.
The workshop is open to all UC-Berkeley students (undergraduate, graduate, and visiting scholars) regardless of academic discipline. It will be especially useful for upper-division undergraduates preparing to write a senior honors thesis, as well as those applying for graduate school or considering a career in fundraising for nonprofits.
We strongly recommend that you come to the workshop with a specific topic in mind. Your idea can be broad–we’ll refine it during the workshop–but you’ll get the most out of the workshop will be most useful if you can apply it to a specific area of research interest.) Please check the OURS Events Calendar for current times, dates, and locations.
- Research Proposal Workshop Slides
- Research Proposal Workshop Recording
- Research Proposal Worksheet
- Schrager 2001, Refining your Proposal
Writing the First Draft
The most important piece of advice regarding writing the first draft of a research proposal is this: just get something down on paper! Once you have a draft, no matter how poor it may be, you are more than halfway there because you then have something to work with and improve. So how to get that first draft down on paper? Here are some ideas to try:
The Swiss-Cheese Approach
Just as a piece of Swiss cheese holds together despite its holes, the idea behind this approach is to write a complete draft by identifying the “holes” that exist as you go along. Start by making an outline, then start writing to fill it in. When you come to something you need, but don’t have, put it in brackets.
Here is an example: “Some scholars argue that Latin American national governments are moving toward the political center (Dickovick and Eaton 2013, [FIND OTHERS]), while others argue that political polarization is increasing [FIND OUT IF THIS IS TRUE; IF SO, CITE.]”
…then move on to your next point. Note in brackets everything that you will need to put in the final draft, but don’t stop to find it now. Just keep identifying the information, evidence, and, citations that you know you will need to get. By the end of the process, you will have a draft–albeit with many holes–but you will also have a better idea of what you need to do in order to write a more complete draft.
The Low-Hanging Fruit Approach
Make a list of all the sections that you know your proposal will need to cover. These may include the research question, relevant background, what others have said about your topic, why it is an important question to answer, methodology, and your qualifications to undertake the research. Once you have a list of all the parts you’ll need, choose the part that is easiest to write and start there. Just get words down on paper for the section you are most comfortable with. Once you have one section written, you may find that it builds momentum for writing even more.
Remember Dory from the movie “Finding Nemo?” Her advice to “just keep swimming?” (Check out a YouTube clip here.) The idea behind this approach is to give yourself a time limit–maybe 10 minutes, maybe 40–and just keep writing continuously. If you don’t know what to say, write that down–just keep writing. Don’t delete anything. If you change your mind about what you have just written, write that down and then write down what you mean to say instead. You may have a great deal of repetition and seemingly unconnected ideas as you write, but once the time limit has passed, you may be surprised by some aspect of what you have produced.
Ninja Focus Approach
Set a time limit for writing, turn off/disconnect all social media devices, and keep a pad of paper/pen next to your writing space. Set the timer (40 minutes is recommended), but instead of writing continuously, keep your focus on the writing task at hand. If your attention wavers, note the thought/to-do list item/information you need to get down on paper, and then go back to writing. You may be surprised how much you get done when you are focused on one task rather than many.
Grandpa Stan’s Approach
Pretend that you are explaining your research question (i.e. what your research is about, and why it matters) to someone who is interested, but by no means an expert on your topic. (If possible, actually do this and record the conversation.) In doing so, you will probably end up distilling your ideas into their core components, making your assumptions explicit, and defining key terms.
…so give one or two of these strategies a try, and you’ll be well on your way to getting a complete first draft!
Refining Your Research Proposal
The most important way to refine your proposal is to:
- Crank out a full draft — even if it’s rough. Yes, it will be painful to create the first draft, but there are some strategies for getting past the “sweaty palm stage” here, and you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment once you do it.
- Show it to as many people as you can.
- Implement their revisions and keep repeating steps 2 and 3! This is the way to perfect your proposal as well as to get encouragement with what can be a challenging process.
If you would like to self-critique, though, here are a few questions to guide you, based on the most common shortcomings found in early drafts of proposals:
QUESTION: Is your question really a foredrawn conclusion that you’re trying to prove? (For example, you have worked with a non-profit that seems very successful to you, and you ask the question, “Is this program effective?”). If so, try to rework it so you are asking a “how”, “why”, or “what does it mean” question, one that is, broadly speaking, about cause and effect. The previous example, for instance, could become “Which element of this program is most essential to its success?”, or “Why is this program more successful than other similar programs?”. The important thing is that you should not know the answer to your question before you start, and you should be open to having your hunch be disproven.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: Is your statement of purpose more than 175 words long? You may be going into too much detail. Details about the debates you are addressing can be moved into the background and justification section. Details about your plan can be moved to the plan section. Here you will want to “sound byte” these ideas to give a quick overview of your project.
SCOPE: Does your project feel too big? Listen to that gut feeling! If so, there are some hints on how to narrow it down on this document, p, 4-5. It is extremely rare for a project to be too small. Don’t fear the narrowing process; it allows you to go deep.
QUALIFICATIONS: Does your qualifications section come out to more than half a page? You need that precious space for your background and justification and your plan! To trim it, remove anything that’s covered elsewhere in the application. Also remove excess introductory phrases. The beauty of having headings in your proposal is it means you don’t need transitions. Make the wording as brief as possible, and mention only those qualifications that are directly relevant to your project.
PLAN: The number one problem with first draft plan sections is that they are not specific enough. Read through your plan and make sure it has approximate dates for each phase of your research, amounts (number of people to be interviewed, number of samples to be gathered, number of subjects in the experiment, etc.), is precise about what will be done, and justifies these choices.
BUDGET: The main problems encountered with budgets are that they are not specific, that expensive equipment is requested but its use is not justified in the proposal, or, conversely, that the budget is unrealistically low. Aim for specific and realistic, but not inflated.
Writing A Proposal for Creative Projects
More information on creative project proposals, including advice from successful Haas Scholars applicants, will be posted soon. In the meantime, keep in mind that a good creative proposal shares most elements in common with a good research proposal: a clear statement of what you hope to accomplish, why this work is needed, and specifically how and when you expect to complete it
However, a creative proposal should also address:
- How does my project relate to or build on other relevant creative expression and/or intellectual work?
- How has my project evolved out of my previous creative work?
- How will this project advance my creative and intellectual development?
Proposal-writing and research in the humanities
This “Writing Across the Humanities” web site offers a full set of resources for *every* step of the research process. Check it out!
Overview Of The IRB Process
If your project involves human subjects (interviews, ethnography, psychological experiments, etc.), it is recommended to include a PDF of your Certificate of Completion for the CITI human subjects online training course with your application.
The Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects’ website has detailed information for undergraduate researchers whose work involves human subjects. Please review their information, and check the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships events calendar for upcoming workshops.
Not Sure If Your Project Needs to Be Reviewed?
- General instructions on what requires CPHS review – see general guidelines here.
- Guidelines for designing undergraduate research activities
- A helpful overview on human subjects research can be found here
- The Office for Protection of Human Subjects also provided tips for efficient human subjects approval
- The program has prepared this chronological, step-by-step guide, which is presented in the human subjects workshops in late February/early March ( see events calendar). This diagram maps out these steps so you can see the process at a glance.
The OPHS info session is accessible using this link – you must be logged into your berkeley.edu email to view.
If Your Work Will Require Review by CPHS
- Carefully review and incorporate these ethical guidelines as you prepare your research design.
- You will also need to take and pass the online CITI human research training course. The online course is here (click on log in; choose “log in through institution; choose UC Berkeley; log in using Calnet ID; choose the course called “Group 2, Social and Behavioral Research Investigators”), and the signup guide is here.
- The CPHS website has PDF versions of their eProtocol applications online for researchers to preview the questions on the ‘eProtocol Instructions’ section of the website. Please review the questions on the CPHS website before preparing your protocol.
- The Office for Protection of Human Subjects also provided tips for efficient human subjects approval
- Contact Miari Stephens or the SURF Social Science graduate mentor for sample approved protocols from past SURF fellows and Haas Scholars, as well as question-by-question guides for the exempt and non-exempt protocols.
Content coming soon.
Scholarly communication is a critical part of the research cycle. If you have put effort into your research and analysis, you should share your findings with others. Look for opportunities to present and discuss your research in a department colloquium, at a conference session, or in a research publication. Many departments sponsor presentations of senior thesis research in April, Undergraduate Research Month.
Publish in a Berkeley Journal!
Check with the individual journals for their submission deadlines and manuscript formats.
- Berkeley Chemical Review
- Berkeley Undergraduate Journal (Social Sciences, Humanities)
- Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics
- Berkeley Scientific
- Clio’s Scroll: The Berkeley Undergraduate History Journal
- Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal
- “Eleven” – sociology undergraduate research journal,
- The Idealist (Philosophy)
- Psychology at Berkeley
- The Troika Journal (European and Eurasian Cultures)
- The Berkeley Economic Review
Become an editor!
Sharpen your reading and analytical skills and help fellow students to organize and polish their written work. Learn the nuts and bolts of academic publishing while developing intellectual leadership. Check with the individual journals (above) to see how to participate.
This information session reviews the eligibility, program commitments, and application materials for three different programs that provide UC Berkeley students with research funding: the Haas Scholars Program, SURF L&S, and Rose Hills Summer Scholarships.