How To Get Involved in Undergraduate Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

So you have decided you want to do research. Luckily for you, the University of Michigan has a firm commitment to undergraduate research. But you realize that the abundance of opportunities is making your life difficult. Where should you even begin to look? To help you in that quest, Perch offers some information about several approaches to finding a research opportunity.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)

Perhaps you recall receiving a UROP leaflet in the mail or hearing about it during orientation. Given that around 1300 students participate in UROP each year, you may know someone who has participated in the program. UROP’s popularity demonstrates its success in presenting opportunities to begin your research career. With projects in a variety of fields, you will likely find a project that interests you. However, UROP requires an application and is only open to freshmen and sophomores. In addition, the program doesn’t accept everyone who applies. For those who are accepted to UROP, the program provides guidance during weekly meetings and offers the chance to present your research at the end of the year. Some find that structure helpful, while others may feel there are too many unnecessary obligations.

Michigan Research Discovery Program/Michigan Research Community

Another research program is Michigan Research and Discovery Scholars (MRADS), which is the residential affiliate of UROP and is situated in the Michigan Research Community (MRC) in Mosher-Jordan. As a learning community, MRADS offers a more immersive research experience, as you will be living with other research scholars. As with UROP, it students can conduct research under the mentorship of faculty in a wide range of fields, and there is a special symposium at the end of the year for MRADS students to present their research. The benefit of joining the MRC over a traditional UROP project is that you will be surrounded a supportive community of other students interested in research. However, the program has limited space and is available only to first-year students, who must apply to the learning community shortly after they are accepted to the University. 

Authentic Research Connection (ARC)

Another strategy for freshmen or sophomores to ease into research would be to sign up for an Authentic Research Connection section of a laboratory course. ARC sections are currently available for Biology 173, Chem 125/126, Chem 216, and Earth 315. These sections allow for more exploration than the typical introductory lab courses, letting students play a role in an ongoing research project during the semester. While students likely don’t have as much independence in the experiments or design of the project as they might during a faculty-sponsored project, ARCs provide the opportunity to work on exciting research projects — such as the role of diet on the gut microbiome or the synthesis of anti-cancer drugs — with your classmates. 

Cold Emailing

For those craving more independence or possessing specific research interests, another option is to directly email professors. You can find projects that you find most interesting on departmental websites or the student employment website, then email faculty whose research excites you to express interest in joining their lab. While cold emailing professors is ultimately the best way of joining a lab that suits your interests, reading about the research interests of many faculty can be demanding and drafting emails explaining your interest and why you think you would be a good fit for the research group is often intimidating. You can expect to not hear back from all the professors you emailed, and your success in finding a position this way will likely come down to how much previous research experience you’ve had, which courses you’ve taken, and whether the lab has the training capacity for undergraduates at the time you email. 

Student Organizations

Student teams, such as the Michigan Synthetic Biology Team, are another way to get involved in research. These teams have student-led projects, which increases the possibility for failure but allows you to fulfill management and design roles usually held by faculty in faculty-led projects. Depending on the team, you may create your own project or continue an existing project. Often, these teams attend competitions where students may learn from teams from other universities or organizations. However, student teams often have limited funds and equipment, constraining what experiments you can conduct. In addition, students may find the multi-tasking of team self-management, design, and technical work can slow down the progress of the project.

Multidisciplinary Design Projects

For those more interested in creating an innovative product or system with immediate impact, the Multidisciplinary Design Program offers the chance to work on projects that have been created by students, designed by faculty, or sponsored by other organizations. The projects cover an enormous number of topics from designing cost-efficient off-grid solar-powered energy management systems to fabricating function 3D-printed prosthetic hands. MDPs are professional design projects and are often partnered with companies. There is a heavy engineering focus, but their interdisciplinary nature attracts students from multiple schools and colleges. There is an application and a two-semester commitment.

Summer Research Opportunities 

For those who don’t want to dive into research while taking a full course load, summer research opportunities offer a great way to get involved. These programs go by many names — SURF, SURP, REU, etc. — but they all offer structured programs at universities and research institutions across the country. You will be immersed in research full time, with professional development seminars that will help you learn from and network with faculty and fellow students from other universities. At the end of the summer, you will be able to present your research. These summer experiences usually last 8-12 weeks, giving you a short timeframe for you to complete the research. Many summer research experiences are in STEM fields, but there are also programs for ethics, economics, and social sciences. There are separate applications for each summer research experience, and you must comb through numerous pages to determine which specific programs appeal to you. The application process can be very competitive, so applying to multiple programs helps increase the chance that you get accepted into one.

Perch

We have about wrapped up our summary of research opportunities. We saved Perch for last. Perch offers a robust platform to help you find all research opportunities at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. We also offer for-credit courses you can use as stepping stones to meaningful research experiences. Perch offers courses to help you learn basic experimental techniques before beginning research, and our online platform may help you connect with faculty whose research interests you. Our courses are designed to be flexible and are open to any student so that you can fit them into your schedule. We offer a section of Chem 211 in the fall (Chem 211H), and chemical engineering course in the Winter (ChE 496). There is limited space in the classes. We also host an annual research symposium for all undergraduate students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

If you have any feedback on research opportunities we discussed or those you feel we left out, please contact us. We would also love to hear from you if you have any ideas on how Perch can improve and help students find engaging research projects.

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