Undergraduate Research

Why Should You Consider Undergraduate Research?

The Department of Chemistry encourages undergraduate students to become involved in a research project under the direction of a faculty member. Whether you are planning to go to graduate school or pursue a career upon graduation, one of the factors that often gives our students an edge is the opportunity to engage in research and become familiar with the state-of-the-art instrumentation used in chemistry research today. A majority of our students conduct undergraduate research with faculty members

Instrumentation and Publications

We have all of the basic instrumentation necessary for conducting research in chemistry. Many of our major instruments (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectrometers and Mass spectrometers) have been recently upgraded. When students are enrolled in undergraduate research, they have access to all the instrumentation necessary for their research.

Some undergraduate research students have been listed as co-authors on peer-reviewed publications and have given presentations at conferences. This definitely makes a resume or graduate school application stand out! A letter of recommendation from a research advisor means a lot more to potential employers or graduate schools than many other types of endorsements.

When Should You Begin Undergraduate Research?

Students often consider undergraduate research after they have completed foundational chemistry courses at the beginning of junior year. However, students are welcome to begin collaborating on a research project at any time. Some enterprising students have even arranged to begin a project during freshman year or the summer prior to freshman year.

Collaboration and Credits

Undergraduate research requires considerable initiative on the part of the student both in arranging and carrying out the collaboration with a particular faculty member. It is best to start exploring possible arrangements the term before you intend to register.

For the research experience to be meaningful, students must enroll in undergraduate research for two semesters and for a minimum of 6 total credits. Students may enroll in undergraduate research as often as they wish, but a maximum of 12 credits of undergraduate research may be applied toward the 128 credits needed for graduation.

Prior to registering for undergraduate research, it is highly recommended that students select an advisor and volunteer in the laboratory to help them gain an understanding of the expectations in a research environment and get to know the advisor and other group members. 

How Should You Begin Undergraduate Research?

1. Meet with Faculty

Your meetings with faculty to discuss possible research projects are an opportunity for you to get to know what projects are in progress and planned for the future, possible projects that you could become involved in, the time involved, and any other questions or topics that will provide the information you need to make a decision about your undergraduate research experience. The meetings are a chance to get to know faculty members and their work on a personal level.

You should consider the research interests of the faculty as described in the departmental research opportunities and areas.

2. Arrange Undergraduate Research

The mechanism for setting up an undergraduate research experience are the courses CH4990 (Undergraduate Research) or CH4995 (Undergraduate Research for Biochemists). 

It is best to begin this process the semester before you plan to begin your research work so that you can register for undergraduate research at the same time as you register for your other classes.

Reach agreement on the research project for the term with your professor and see Denise in the Chemistry office (ChemSci 607c)

  • Each credit is equivalent to at least three hours per week of actual work for a 14-week term.
  • The usual number of credits per term is 2-4. 

3. Prepare for the Research Project

Review all safety procedures with advisor before beginning work in the lab; complete a safety form and bring to the department coordinator.

4. Maintain a Laboratory Notebook

Since your degree is American Chemical Society (ACS) certified, it is expected that you will maintain a laboratory notebook and turn it in to your professor upon completion of the research project.

The Recommended Text is Writing the Laboratory Notebook, Kanare, Howard M., American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1985. This book describes among other things the reasons for notekeeping, organizing and writing the notebook, with examples, and provides photographs from laboratory notebooks of famous scientists.

5. Write a Research Report

Students are required to write a research report following either the “Guidelines for Preparing a Research Report” or the research advisor’s specifications before a grade can be issued.

The ACS, as part of the accreditation process of the Chemistry Department, requires us to send it copies of undergraduate research reports written by students. This is to ensure that the quality of undergraduate research projects at Michigan Tech meets ACS standards. 

It is essential that students submit a professional report following the guidelines and the research advisor’s specifications! 

It is expected that students will review the guidelines before, during, and after their research projects. Refer to:

  • The ACS Style Guide
    Coghill, A.M., Garson, L.R.; 3rd Edition, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 2006.
  • Write Like A Chemist
    Robinson, M.S., Stoller, F.L., Costanza-Robinson, M.S., Jones, J.K., Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.

Students may also wish to make an appointment at the Michigan Tech Multiliteracies Center before submitting their reports to research advisors. 

6. Understand Grading

Unlike traditional graded classes, undergraduate research only receives a final letter grade after the research report has been submitted. The grading has two components:

  • Ongoing project – Each semester the research advisor completes the undergraduate research grade sheet with “P” for progress.
  • Completed projectStudent cannot graduate until “P” grades are replaced by a letter grade. (A’s are not automatic).

Professor’s Role in Undergraduate Research

Advising Steps

The professor is encouraged to incorporate these steps when advising students in undergraduate research:

  • Discuss potential research projects with students.
  • Invite students to volunteer in your laboratory for at least one month before completing the online application. It is expected that students complete this volunteer period in the semester prior to enrolling in undergraduate research.
  • Upon completion of the volunteer period, and if you feel the student is a suitable match for your group, invite students to complete the online undergraduate research enrollment form.
  • Discuss with the students the expectations for your laboratory, keeping a laboratory notebook, and writing of the final report.
  • Provide safety training specific to laboratory and project.
  • Provide ongoing consultation, supervision, and collaboration to students during each project.

Grading Components

Unlike traditional graded classes, undergraduate research only receives a final letter grade after the research report has been submitted. The two grading components are:

  • Ongoing project – Each semester the research advisor completes the undergraduate research grade sheet with “P” for progress. Never give students a letter grade during an ongoing project.
  • Completed projectStudent cannot graduate until “P” grades are replaced by a letter grade. (An “A” is not automatic). The “P” should not be changed to a final letter grade until the student has submitted their final report. At that time, grades must be changed on Banweb.

Other Research Opportunities

In addition to CH4990/CH4995, many of our students have excellent research experiences at other institutions, usually during the summer, through Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at various universities. For a listing of current REUs, search the NSF site.

Policy For Off-campus Undergraduate Research for Credit

(approved by the faculty 11/01/2011)

With the goal of increasing collaborative interactions between industry and chemistry department faculty, students may engage in undergraduate research in an off-campus research and development laboratory.

Off-campus Credit Requirements

The department stipulates the following requirements for undergraduate research credits to be earned at an off-campus site.

  1. The student must have an advisor in the chemistry department who has sufficient expertise and professional interest to evaluate the student’s work.
  2. Each semester the advisor must preapprove a work plan provided by the student’s supervisor at the off-campus site. The advisor should discuss the plan with the supervisor and ensure that the facility, research plan, and supervision are appropriate for departmental expectations. Any concerns about intellectual property must be clarified at this stage.
  3. The student must submit a report at the end of each semester in accordance with departmental guidelines.
  4. The departmental advisor is responsible for evaluating the report and submitting grades (may consult with the off-campus supervisor).
  5. Research work done for credit must follow the university rules that stipulate a minimum of three hours of lab work per credit.
  6. A maximum of two credits per semester may be earned through off-campus research. A maximum of four credits may be earned in this way.

ACS Guideline

Excerpt from ACS guidelines for undergraduate education in chemistry: “Research performed during the summer or performed off-campus, even though it might not receive academic credit, may count toward student certification. In such cases, the student must prepare a comprehensive written report that a faculty member of the home institution evaluates and approves.”

Enroll in CH4990 / CH4995 for Credit

You can earn credits that count toward your degree by registering for Undergraduate Research in Chemistry (CH4990) or Undergraduate Research in Biochemistry (CH4995). You will select the number of credits to take based on your desired time commitment, which is approximately one hour a week per credit. Students may register for multiple terms—most projects last longer than 14 weeks. Prior to registering for CH4990 or CH4995, you must declare your intent to enroll in undergraduate research credits.

Register for CH4990 / CH4995 here.

Volunteer Work

When you volunteer in the lab, you gain valuable experience, which may lead to undergraduate research employment opportunities. To volunteer, you must be a current student and obtain departmental approval.

Visit ChemSci 607c to volunteer!


Undergraduate students may apply for long- or short-term laboratory positions, which are dependent on available funding and employee experience. The Department of Chemistry office, located in Chem Sci 607, accepts student resumes and keeps them on file. Excellent opportunities exist for students with work-study financial aid.

To apply, visit ChemSci 607c.