Undergraduate Research

Who Should Consider Doing Undergraduate Research?

Undergraduate research is a particularly good option if:

  • You have a burning curiosity to explore some topic in depth, free of the constraints of classes and exams.
  • You have the self-discipline needed to structure you own time such that you will study the difficult journal articles that you’ll need to read, you will do the lab work that you’ll need to do, and you’ll write up a report or thesis summarizing your results.
  • You are interested in going to graduate school. Undergraduate research is a great way to learn how to do research, and if you do a good job here, your research advisor can write detailed letters about how good you are at doing research. There is nothing a potential graduate advisor likes to hear more than a given student is self-motivated, independent, good in the lab, able to think critically, and an excellent writer.

How To Get Involved in Undergraduate Research at Pitt

If you come up with some topic that you are interested in researching, go talk to the faculty member whose own expertise most closely overlaps with your interest.

If you don’t have a topic, visit the web pages of our faculty and see whose research seems most interesting. Then write them an introductory email expressing your interest in doing research related to their work. Give them your year in school, GPA, and list your geology classes to date. Tell them you’d be happy to call or drop by their office to talk further. They can always just respond by email if they want. If you hear nothing, go knock on their door. There is no reward for being shy!

Many of the lab-based research groups will generally start students doing grunt work in the lab. This is in part training, in part to see if you are reliable and suitable for lab work. If things work out, you hopefully will end up with some chunk of work to do for your own research.

Undergraduate Research and Thesis Classes at Pitt

While collecting the data and analyzing it, you can sign up for GEOL 1903: Undergraduate Research. You can do this for multiple semesters if necessary.

The end goal of undergraduate research is to write up a report or, ideally, a thesis. To get credit for a thesis, sign up for GEOL 1910: Undergraduate Thesis. If your GPA is above a 3.25, this thesis (if sufficiently good) will allow you to graduate with Honors.

How to Find Undergraduate Research Going On at Other Universities:  REU's

The best way to find research opportunities at other universities is to look for REU's:  Research Experiences for Undergraduates.  These are projects funded by the National Science Foundation that are specifically tailored for undergraduate research.  You can find REU's either by Googling things like 'REU environment', 'REU stream hydrology', or 'REU watershed', for example, or you can see complete lists organized by academic discipline by following the Search for the REU Site at the NSF REU page.  The Earth sciences set of REU's is likely to be the most appropriate, but you may also find interesting ones in ocean science or biology, for example.  Try to find research opportunities that provide some field experience!