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 obtaining a job - you need to find an available research position and then sell yourself for that position.

If you are interested in becoming a part of SRP, we highly recommend that you attend one of the SRP orientation workshops held every quarter.

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, and graduate and professional schools. Many opportunities are available to you at UCLA. These brief tips are a guide to help begin 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.
Step 2. Identifying possible research mentors
Once you have an idea of the area in which you would like to do research, you are now ready to find a mentor. One of the best resources currently available to do this is the SRP Research Positions list. Additionally, you can also ask TAs and professors from your classes about the availability of research positions in their department.

Using search engines is another effective means to locate a mentor: UCLA Access, a combined admission program for Graduate Programs in the Molecular, Cellular, & Integrative Life Sciences, lists many potential faculty mentors as does the UCLA Faculty Research Interest search engine: *These search engines are not affiliated with the SRP.

Faculty currently not in the SRP mentor database may apply by submitting the SRP 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

You can also click Here for a great summary of search engines to find faculty mentors on the UCLA campus.

Finally, if you find you are having trouble identifying mentors, you can also email for further assistance.

Step 3. Research your faculty mentor
Identify a few faculty and read about their general area of research. Most departments' faculty listings describe the professor's research and list recent articles.

When you are researching potential faculty mentors, make sure they are conducting research in your area of interest, and be aware of any lab safety courses required by the department. You should be able to connect your coursework or previous volunteer/research experience to the research project you are applying for.

Step 4. Contacting potential mentors
Send an email to all 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. If you would like additional resources, there are additional resources available at the URC-Sciences office.

Step 5. 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 him/her for his/her time. 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 precisely 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.

Step 6. The contract
When a potential faculty mentor agrees to accept you into the his/her lab the next step is the contract. You will need to fill out a contact on-line through MyUCLA. There are instructions on how to set up a contract here.

NOTE:The "Laboratory Safety Fundamental Concepts" class is required for all students, volunteers, and staff in laboratories. This training must be completed prior to signing up for SRP. Please see the EH&S training schedule for class dates and enrollment instructions. 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 to our office via campus mail or fax (310-267-2219).

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

Step 7. (Optional) The evaluations
Completion of an end of quarter evaluation is optional. Evaluations may be submitted by both the student and the mentor.