Finding a Research Mentor

Getting involved in an undergraduate research project is not like signing up for a class. Instead, it is much more like finding a job. All undergraduates are responsible for finding their own faculty mentor and research project.

Our center offers "How to get into Research/SRP-99" workshops throughout the quarter hosted by experienced Grad Students. If you are interested in attending a workshop, please see our quarterly schedule. 

Step 1. Finding a research project
Becoming involved in research is one of the most important decisions you will make as an undergraduate student. The right research experience can greatly enhance your education and further your preparation for industry, business, or graduate/professional schools. UCLA is a world-class research institution with over a thousand faculty performing original research across all disciplines and subjects. These brief tips are a guide to help navigate your search for a research opportunity.
  • Think about courses you've taken or other educational experiences you've had
  • Make a list of those subjects that you find most interesting
  • For ideas on topics to list, scan through your science and textbook indices
  • Look at the departmental web sites for the subjects in which you are interested
  • Visit the Undergraduate Research Portal on MyUCLA to see what opportunities UCLA Faculty are actively recruiting students for

Step 2. Make a list of at least 10-15 possible faculty mentors

Once you have an idea of the area in which you would like to do research, there are a few ways to find a mentor at UCLA.

a.    Undergraduate Research Portal: One of the best resources currently available to do this is the Undergraduate Research Portal, which is located on MyUCLA under the "Academics" tab. This is a platform where faculty from across campus can post open positions in their lab as well as view student profiles. Begin by creating a profile and then start browsing!

b.    Contact a Mentor in the Graduate Programs in Bioscience (GPB): GPB faculty are current mentors for graduate students and represent a variety of research interest across campus. Their experience as mentors and their familiarity with graduate programs make them excellent mentors for undergraduates. Website: www.bioscience.ucla.edu

d.    Browse Department Websites: While the Undergraduate Research Portal is a good tool, not all faculty will post openings in their lab, so you may have to contact them directly. Most departments have their own webpages with a list of faculty and what research they are currently working on. Reach out to the faculty that interest you the most. Additionally, you can ask TAs and professors from your classes about availability of research positions in their department. The full list of department websites can be found here: www.ucla.edu/academics/departments-and-programs


Step 3. Contacting potential faculty mentors
Send an email to your list of potential faculty members introducing yourself and clearly indicating your purpose for contacting them. This "cover letter" should include the following points:

  • Name and major/department affiliation
  • Purpose for contacting them (ie. research as an SRP student for stated quarter)
  • Major research interests and enthusiasm for gaining research experience
  • How do your research interests relate to the research being done in said laboratory (ie. Why are you interested in their specific laboratory?)
  • Include your contact information (email, phone, etc.)
As an attachment to your email, include your curriculum vitae (CV). A CV is similar to a resume but is specific to your academic career. When you write your CV to send to SRP faculty, be sure to include:
  • Relevant coursework - you may want to include a short description of techniques/concepts mastered.
  • Leadership experience (on/off campus) and work experience that demonstrates organizational skills, independent thinking, etc.)
  • Honors, awards or distinctions (include name of award, granting college/department, and monetary value if appropriate)

Anticipate that at this stage, your CV should be 1-2 pages in length. Here is a sample cover letter and curriculum vitae. For help refining your CV or cover letter, we recommend students visit the UCLA Writing Center or UCLA Career Center. Both centers offer appointments where professionals can meet one-on-one students.

The reason you want to reach out to at least 10-15 faculty members is because this process is just like finding a job. You may not get a response from everyone you reach out to. You may also receive plenty of declines. Be persistent! Every student who has wanted a research position has eventually secured one. If you don't hear back from a specific lab, send a polite follow-up email 1-2 weeks after your initial email. 


Step 4. The interview
When you contact potential mentors, you may find that one or more of them is unable to accept you into his/her lab. This may be due to a variety of circumstances so do not take it personally. In such a case, graciously thank them for their time. If a faculty does invite you for an interview, make sure you are on time and that you have questions to ask regarding the research and the laboratory environment. Be sure to inquire about how your research experience will be structured.

  • Who will supervise and/or direct your research efforts?
  • What will you be doing in the lab?
  • What types of lab safety courses are required to work in the lab?
  • Make sure that the mentor intends to make you an intellectual participant in the research efforts and not just a technical assistant.
  • What is the weekly time committment? How flexible are schedule changes?
  • How flexible are hours during exam periods?
Step 5. The contract
When a potential faculty mentor agrees to accept you into the their lab, the next step is to get academic credit! SRP-99 contracts can be made online on MyUCLA. There are instructions on how to set up a contract here.

NOTE: The "Laboratory Safety Fundamental Concepts" training may be required to work in certain laboratories. If it is required, this training must be completed prior to submitting your SRP contract. There may be additional training courses you will be required to take based on your faculty mentor's research. Make sure to ask your faculty mentor what you will need to be trained in and complete training as soon as possible. 
You may find when setting up your contract that your faculty mentor is not listed in the system. First, double-check that you are looking in the correct department. If you still do not see your mentor listed, then they will need to submit a completed Faculty Participation Form. Please direct them to the 'info for faculty' section. You can bring the form to our office or have the faculty fax it to us. We'll run a report to determine whether or not the faculty is eligible to participate. To find out if he/she has been added to the SRP database please call us at 310.794.4227

The deadline for contracts is always the Friday of 2nd week.