How Do I Get Started in Research?

One major perk of being a Stanford student is that you will have opportunities to do original research with the Stanford faculty. Faculty across the university are engaged in research, and if you are interested in joining them in their pursuit, it will be up to you to get the ball rolling.

Ways of doing research

Generally speaking, there are two ways Stanford students can engage in research:

  • You can assist a faculty member with their research project
  • You can pursue your own independent research project (guided by a faculty mentor), where the research question and methodology are determined by you

Some students just assist in faculty research and then decide that they are not interested in pursuing their own research project. Other students don’t get involved in research until the day they are ready to propose their own independent project. And some students will pursue both options: usually they assist a faculty member earlier in their Stanford career, and then engage in their own independent research project later on.

How can I get involved with faculty research?

Assisting a professor with their research project can teach you valuable new skills, help you determine whether or not you enjoy the research process, and prompt you to think about whether you may want to design your own research project someday. There are many ways you can get involved.
 

Apply to a structured research program

During the summer, many departments and centers will have a research program that hires dozens of students for full-time summer work. Be sure to check the list of departments and centers that receive VPUE funding, as these are the most likely places to find such summer research programs. There are also a several summer research programs that are not funded by VPUE, such as the Bio-X Program and the NeURO Fellowship Program. The Stanford On & Off-Campus Learning Opportunities (SOLO) site is another place to search for research programs to apply to.

Note that most summer research programs will have their application deadlines either late in Autumn quarter or during Winter quarter.

In addition to these summer research programs, be aware that there are also structured research programs that happen at other times during the year. If you are interested in the Humanities, for example, check out the Humanities Research Intensive program, which happens over spring break (applications due in Autumn). And if you are interested in sciences and engineering, consider the ChEM-H Undergraduate Scholars Program, which runs from winter quarter through the following fall (applications due in Autumn).
 

Check job ads on mailing lists, newsletters, SOLO, and Handshake

Professors looking for research assistants often advertise over email (especially on their departmental mailing lists), on the weekly Academic Advising Newsletter, on SOLO, or on Handshake. If you’re not on any departmental mailing lists, ask the department’s Student Services Officer if you can be added to a mailing list for current or prospective majors. Job postings may happen during any quarter, and are usually for only one or two students for part-time work.
 

Connect with a professor you already know

There is no better place to start learning about research than chatting with a professor you may already know through classes or other connections. Rather than asking for a job up front, we recommend asking to meet during office hours to get advice on getting started in research. While it is possible your professor may have a research position open, you can still gain valuable tips and connections even if they have nothing available for you at the moment. Remember to ask what other faculty members your professor recommends that you reach out to if you are interested in doing research in this subject.
 

Reach out to a professor you haven't met yet

If you have a topic of interest, but don’t yet know any professors working in that field, your first step is to find out which faculty are working on that topic.

  • Visit the department webpage for departments most closely related to your topic of interest. Take a look at the Faculty Profiles to find information about the research interests of the faculty associated with these departments.
     
  • Visit the Student Services Officer in the departments most closely related to your topic of interest. The Student Services Officer can talk with you about your interests and try to help you identify one or more faculty whose research you may want to learn more about.

Once you have identified the faculty whose research most interests you, visit their office hours or send them an email to request a meeting for further conversation about their research interests and your own. Again, rather than asking for a job up front, we recommend asking to meet during office hours to get advice on getting started in research. Remember to ask what other faculty members your professor recommends that you reach out to if you are interested in doing research in this subject.

More Suggestions for Finding Faculty
How to Email Faculty

Further Help

If you are uncertain about any of these steps, go talk with your Academic Advising Director! They guide students at all stages of the research process to help them identify faculty and future mentors, think about how to start the conversation, and more. They are also good people to turn to when interested in getting funding for an independent project.

See Also