Getting research experience during your time as an undergraduate can aid in your pursuit for graduate school or certain career opportunities. There are many opportunities available to conduct research alongside faculty at Columbia or other universities and research institutes.
What types of research opportunities are available to me?
You can gain research experience by volunteering at university research institutes, medical centers, or hospitals. Volunteer positions typically allow for the greatest flexibility in commitment and experience level.
Certain majors allow students to pursue independent research projects during the semester and earn between 1 and 4 course credits. Usually, a proposal must be submitted to the department and the student must complete a culminating project like a presentation or report. Discuss with your department administrator prior to course registration.
Paid Research Assistantships
You may work alongside a Columbia faculty member as a paid research assistant. These positions are competitive and often require some prior exposure to research through coursework or other experiences.
Funded programs are competitive programs that typically take place over the summer at universities around the country. Students are usually required to work full time (40–50 hours per week) on independent projects under the guidance of a research scientist in exchange for a stipend. Some examples are the Amgen Scholars Program and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), which are offered through Columbia, as well as the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU).
Fellowships provide funds for students to pursue independent research or to work as research assistants on ongoing laboratory projects over the summer at a location of their choice. For example, the Class of 1939 Summer Research Fellowship and the Deresiewicz Summer Research Fellowship provide funding for undergraduates to do independent research.
Many departments offer the opportunity to research and write a senior thesis. This is typically a year-long independent project developed with the guidance of a faculty mentor. Some departments offer funding opportunities to kickstart your research the summer before senior year. Check your department website for more information about writing a senior thesis in your field.
How do I decide what research area I should pursue?
Ask yourself “what appeals to me?”
One of the first questions to ask yourself is: What broad, fundamental research question appeals to me? Think about your favorite courses, subjects, and publications. Choose and develop research interests that genuinely spark your intellectual curiosity.
Do your research
To find inspiration, review Columbia’s Centers and Institutes website to search the broad spectrum of research areas supported on campus. Additionally, the websites for individual majors and academic departments usually have a list of professors’ research backgrounds, interests, and current projects.
Talk to others
Talk to your classmates, professors, teaching assistants, advisers, and mentors to get advice and help with brainstorming research areas of interest. Meet with an Undergraduate Research & Fellowships adviser to discuss how to get started and look for opportunities. If you’re a Columbia College student interested in science research, you can also connect with Dr. Vesna Gasperov.
How do I find a research position?
There are several ways to find and apply to research opportunities. It’s best to use a variety of methods in your search.
Contact professors doing research that interests you
Identify faculty members pursuing research projects in line with your interests. Find their contact information on their department webpages or in the Columbia directory. Send them a professional email, succinctly outlining your research interests and skills, and expressing your interest in serving as a research assistant. You can also stop by professors’ office hours to discuss their research and express your interest in person.
Apply to a funded program
Apply to Columbia-sponsored programs such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), Amgen Scholars Program, Kluge Fellows Summer Research Program, Laidlaw Scholars Program, or Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. Also, check out external opportunities through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) website.
Seek a fellowship opportunity
Look for fellowship opportunities both through Columbia and external sites. Search the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships database or the School of General Studies fellowships database for opportunities.
Discover Columbia’s many research institutes
Review the websites of Columbia research institutes and affiliated research centers, including the The Earth Institute, Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. They often list research and fellowship opportunities.
Browse Departmental Research Opportunities and resources
Review the list of research opportunities and resources in academic departments on the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships website.
Subscribe to listservs
Subscribe to listservs like the prehealth, prelaw, and prebusiness emails to receive daily alerts of opportunities.
Search online databases
Use online databases like LionSHARE and the Student Research Involvement Program portal through SEAS. Premed students should use resources like the Clinical and Research Opportunities page and the Summer Programs page, for GS, or the Extracurricular/Summer Options page, for Columbia College or SEAS students.
What materials do I need to apply?
To apply, you may need to submit the following documents as part of your application.
- Resume: Most opportunities will ask you to submit a resume detailing previous research experience, project work, and related coursework.
- Letters of recommendation: Some fellowship and research programs require letters of recommendation. Consider asking current and former professors, teaching assistants, advising deans, and supervisors who can speak to your abilities and strengths. Be sure to give them plenty of time to write the letter.
- Statement of purpose or cover letter: Some fellowships and research programs require a statement of purpose or cover letter describing your research interests, professional goals, and what skills and experiences you have to offer to the program.
You can find additional resources on applications through Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, including through their events and advising resources.
We’re here to help! Get your resume, cover letter, or statement of purpose reviewed by a CCE career counselor during Quick Questions or a 30-minute counseling appointment.