1. Explore your research interests

  • Think about your favorite classes. What about these classes did you like?
  • What research would help you achieve your career goals?
  • What skills and knowledge are you wanting to develop?

2. Connect with a faculty member

  • Do your homework and see what research is being conducted on campus. Tip: Don't limit your search to your major department. There are likely professors in different departments that have research interests that closely match your own.
    • Browse MSU faculty publications at https://scholarworks.montana.edu/, or contact the Renne Library Research Center located in the South Side of the library (994-2171).
    • You can also browse departmental faculty pages on the MSU website. Many faculty members will provide links to their recent publications and lab website.
  • Once you've narrowed your search, contact a potential mentor
    • Write a professional email expressing your interest in working with them
      • Send an initial email introducing yourself and inquiring about undergraduate research opportunities in your prospective mentor’s research group or lab.
      • This first email is a good opportunity to ask for a meeting.
      • Tailor your email to align with the research interests of the mentor you are reaching out to. Mention their research and why it’s a good fit or of interest to you. Consider mentioning a paper they've published, or the focus of their research lab. 
      • Specify your research goals, both generally and practically. Let your potential mentor know how much time you are willing to devote to a research project. 
      • You don’t need to attach your resume at this point.
      • If they have positions available, then follow up with your resume and cover letter/email…. Or just bring your resume to a face-to-face meeting. Below is a template you can feel free to use in your initial email.
      • Keep your email brief and to the point. Professors are busy and receive many emails, so they will appreciate your conciseness. 
    • Professors have busy schedules, so don't be discouraged if you don't hear back right away. If they don't get back to you within a few weeks, you can send a respectful email to remind them of your original message. 
    • If the faculty member is considering working with you, they might decide to schedule an in-person meeting to discuss project goals further. 
      • Come to the meeting on time and prepared. Again, do you homework. Familiarize yourself with their research publications before you sit down with them. This will convey initiative and help you appear knowledgeable.

3. Tips for success

  • Your first idea might not pan out, and that's okay. Be persistent, and you'll find an undergraduate research opportunity that's right for you. 
  • Take smaller opportunities as they come. You might have to work in a lab on campus part-time before a faculty member chooses to mentor you.
  • Keep building experience. This will help you move up within your field and will also allow for more rewarding research opportunities to come your way. 
  • Research how to write a strong research grant proposal. Here is an article to get you started: https://www.storydoc.com/blog/how-to-write-a-research-proposal. 

4. Fund your independent research project

  • Learn about undergraduate research funding opportunities here.
  • Read about how to write your research grant proposal here