Undergraduate Information FAQ Back to the List

Research Opportunities

How do I learn about which faculty member's research might interest me?

The best way to start is to talk to friends who have done undergraduate research with faculty here and to read the descriptions of the research interests of faculty in chemistry and related fields. A student should feel free to explore opportunities in other interdisiplinary areas not listed below (such as molecular or condensed matter physics, computational biology, etc). If you are planning to pursue an honors thesis in chemistry, the research should be in Chemistry or a related chemical area (we have had students who have done honors work in Biology and Physics, but the research involved chemistry related problems and was approved in advance for an honors thesis in chemistry by the Chemistry undergraduate advisor).

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How do I approach a faculty member about doing research in their group?

After you have identified a few faculty whose research looks interesting to you from reading a description of their research interests, it is time to contact them directly for more information. When you call (call your favorite first), tell them that you are an undergraduate major in chemistry (or biological chemistry) interested in pursuing undergraduate research with a faculty member at UofC. If you contact the faculty member by email, you can tell them in the first message a little about yourself:

  • your year in the program, (sophomore, junior, etc.)

  • what classes you have taken relevant to the research position (e.g. if you are interested in research in theoretical chemistry, tell them how you did in physical chemistry and what math or computing skills you have).

  • what your plans are in terms of a higher degree ("I hope to go to graduate school in chemistry")

  • if applicable, a sentence describing prior research you have done.

If you contact the faculty member by telephone first, ask them if they have a couple minutes now or if you should call back later (ask them what time is good), before you launch into a description of yourself. In addition to the information above, they might be interested in knowing if one of the other faculty in the department know you well enough to vouch for you (e.g. if you got an A with Phil Eaton in organic and want to work with Viresh Rawal, you may want to ask Phil ahead of time if you can tell Viresh that Phil knows you from class). The goal of a short email message or telephone call to these faculty members is to set up an appointment to talk with the faculty member in person about research opportunities in their group. Telling them a bit about yourself during this call is up to you, but sometimes it helps a faculty member who is already over committed to research associates know if they should still meet with you (for instance, if you are hell-bent on doing research with Don Levy, let him know you are a really good student and that you are very keen on working with him before you ask him for an appointment to meet together).

When you go to the appointment to meet with the faculty member, they may ask you about yourself, your class work, and your interests, and they should tell you about what research opportunities there are in the coming year in their group. If you are thinking of doing an honors thesis, ask them which of the research projects are most appropriate for an honors thesis (the faculty member should identify if there is a project that could reasonably give you a finished piece of work to write about in the time you have left to complete it). In many groups you learn the most day to day from the graduate students in the group, so you may want to ask whether you will collaborate with a graduate student or work alone (if you would work with a graduate student on the project, you may want to meet them to see if they are eager to help an undergraduate; that will make the research experience more fun.) If at the end of the conversation you are still enthusiastic and comfortable, ask the faculty member if they can take you on and how you should proceed (settle on what afternoons or evenings they can expect you to be in lab, when group meetings are, etc.). If you want to learn about opportunities in a couple more groups before actually asking a faculty member if you can work with them, let the faculty member know when you plan to contact them again and thank them for taking the time to let you know about possible research opportunities (do not take more than a week or two to look around once you have had serious conversations with one faculty member). It is most usual to approach your favorite person first so that if they spend a half hour telling you about their research and then tell you they have a spot available for you, you can them tell them you are delighted to accept. Do not get discouraged if your favorite group is already over committed so can't offer you a position; this is often a first come-first serve situation so just ask their advice on what other research groups in the department they would recommend and go on to contact the other research groups that interest you).

Keep in mind that when you first work with a group it is a time to learn to be productive. If it is a good research project, it will take time to learn how to make a contribution. You should not expect to be paid a salary during the academic year (although some faculty do), but your work with the group during the academic year is very valuable in preparing you for a paid summer internship (many faculty offer summer jobs first to students who have been working with them during the academic year, if things have gone well). 


How do I secure a paid position on campus over the summer?

The best way to secure a paid research position over the summer with a faculty member at UofC is to work with them on a volunteer basis during the academic year preceding the summer you want to work full time on research. Whether you plan to do an honors thesis or not, one option is to identify a couple faculty of whose research interests you by reading the Description of Research of Faculty in Chemistry or Biological Chemistry and then contacting the individual faculty member directly. Your summer salary can be funded in one of several ways:

  • The most common is for the faculty member to pay you from his or her research grants.

  • The Department of Chemistry and the Department of Physics also often have National Science Foundation REU (Research Opportunities for Undergraduates) programs running each summer that you may apply to for salary support (rather than an individual faculty member having to scrape the funds from his/her research grants). Contact the Chemistry Advisor (chemadvisor@uchicago.edu) about the Chemistry REU site and contact Stuart Gazes (gazes@uchicago.edu) about the Physics REU site.

  • The Biological Sciences Collegiate Division also has a Summer Research Fellowship Program; information about this program is available at http://bscd.bsd.uchicago.edu (deadline for application is usually in April).

  • If you are a second-year student and want to pursue a PhD program, you may quality for the Mellon Mays Fellowship, which funds a summer Research Training Program. See http://mellonmays.uchicago.edu/summer/index.shtml for more information.


What other summer research opportunities are there outside of the university?

Here are a wide variety of summer research programs for undergraduates across the country at universities, companies, and in government laboratories. For further information on the types of programs available, consult the file of undergraduate research opportunities in the undergraduate chemistry advisor office. Information on a few of the programs are posted on the bulletin board (not display case) just outside Kent 107 labeled "Announcements and Information for Chemistry and Biological Chemistry majors ". Some have Web sites; links to a few of them are listed below. One of the largest formal summer research programs at universities are the National Science Foundation REU (Research Opportunities for Undergraduates) sites. (When you get to that page, click on Chemistry in the left hand column for a list of sites. They update them in winter quarter for the following summer.) There are also undergraduate research programs at government labs such as Argonne National Laboratory. (From this page, it is necessary to follow the "Higher Education" link, then to Undergraduate: "Student Research Participation Program (Fall and Spring Semesters) or Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and positions at industrial companies. Applications for some of these have very early due dates (as early as November of the summer before you want to do research). Beyond any advertised program, you may call faculty at a university individually to request a summer research position. Particularly if you are considering graduate school at that university and plan to use the summer research to have an advance look at their graduate program, many faculty will be responsive to such a request. Consult the ACS Directory of Graduate Research (the library has a copy) to find the research areas and telephone numbers (or email addresses) of chemistry faculty at Universities in Ph.D. granting institutions across the country.

We will gradually collect Web site links to other summer research programs and list them below. However, the most complete list is in the file in the undergraduate advisors office, so just call for an appointment to come look at it if you are looking for a summer research opportunity outside of The University of Chicago.


What are the requirements for an Honors Thesis in Chemistry?

Students must normally have enrolled for (at least) one official quarter of Chem 299, only open to chemistry majors who are eligible for honors. It is very unlikely, however, that anyone will accomplish enough research in one quarter to write an Honors paper, thus the research effort would typically begin the summer before the year during which 299 is taken. The research should be in Chemistry or a related chemical area (we have had students who have done work in Biology and Physics, but the research involved chemically-related problems and was approved in advance for an honors thesis in chemistry by the Chemistry undergraduate advisor). The work must be carried out under the direction of a Chemistry faculty member or someone approved in advance by the Chemistry Advisor. (Honors research in BIolgical Chemistry may be done with any faculty member from the Dept. of Chemistry or the Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or with any number of other researchers at the University. If you are considering doing research with a faculty member who is not in either of the primary departments sponsoring this degree, you need only submit a short description of your proposed research to the Biological Chemistry advisor for a determination of whether the subject matter is appropriate for an honors paper in Biological Chemistry. The area is defined broadly as long as good scientific questions are investigated in the research.)

The final paper should be submitted by typically the first week in May for students graduating in June. Inquire about the specific due date each year with the chemistry advisor (The chemistry advisor has to provide the Master's office with a list of potential honors graduates in early May -- these deadlines are rigid because they have to print the proper diplomas).

Typically, the paper should contain at least 15 pages of text (not including figures). The general form should follow the outline of a journal research paper, including proper citations. While most of the paper may be specialized, the introduction should serve as a general outline of the scientific questions addressed and a review of others work toward answering those questions; this part should be readable by people not working in that research area (e.g. Could your classmates with an interest in another area of chemistry understand the importance of the scientific questions addressed by your research from your introduction?). The exact format of the paper should be decided upon by the student in consultation with the research mentor since many faculty like to use the theses as a research record and aid in writing up results for a publication. For example, a synthetic chemist might wish to include photocopies of key NMR or IR spectra even though those would not be typically published in a journal article; a theoretical chemist might include an appendix with program code and annotation; a physical chemist might want to include detailed drawings of a piece of machined apparatus. What the research advisor wants (and needs) will always vary from group to group.

The grammar and general appearance of the paper should be of the standards expected for a University of Chicago graduate.