Getting involved in a research project as an undergraduate 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. However, our center provides resources to help students obtain research positions. Our most comprehensive resources are our “How to get into STEM Research/SRP-99” workshops. These workshops are led by experienced Graduate Student Mentors and are offered multiple times per quarter throughout the year. These workshops review much of the information listed here.

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 and you are not restricted to research within your home department or major.

You should first consider what type of research you are interested in pursuing. Make a list of subjects and fields that interest you and that you would want to commit time to exploring. Review courses you have previously taken, revisit assigned readings, and talk to your TA’s and professors about your interests and what type of work is currently being done in those fields.

We recommend you make a list of at least 5-10 faculty to contact or opportunities to apply to.

Step 2. Make a list of at least 5-10 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.

  1. Browse Department Websites: Visit the department websites relevant to the subjects and fields of interest you identified. Each department website has a faculty directory with more information about their lab’s current research and some faculty have independent lab websites with in-depth information about their current research goals and recently published papers.
  2. Undergraduate Research Portal: Visit the Undergraduate Research Portal under the “Academics” tab on MyUCLA. This is a platform where faculty from across campus can post research positions that they are actively recruiting for. The opportunities posted here are not comprehensive of all opportunities at UCLA so do not be discouraged if you don’t see a listing that interests you. You should still reach out to faculty directly.
  3. 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. See Graduate Programs in Bioscience (GPB) website

Step 3. Contacting potential faculty mentors

We recommend emailing a cover letter and CV to faculty you are interested in working with. Your cover letter will comprise the body of your email and should clearly and concisely:

  • Introduce yourself (name, major, & reason for contacting them)
  • Explain your interest and enthusiasm in their lab’s work
  • Identify your goals and how working in their lab will help you progress towards them
  • Request an interview to further discuss a potential research opportunity (include your general availability and a potential start date)
  • Include your contact information (email & phone)

As an attachment to your email, include your curriculum vitae (CV). A CV is similar to a resume but is a more comprehensive document outlining your qualifications. Be sure to include:

  • Relevant coursework – you may want to include a short description of techniques/concepts mastered.
  • Relevant work history & experience
  • Leadership experience (on/off campus) 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. 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.

Click here to view a sample cover letter.

Click here to view a sample CV.

Step 4. Preparing for an interview

When you contact potential mentors, you may find that one or more of them is unable to accept you into their 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.

  • Who will be supervising and training me?
  • How is the project structured?
  • What techniques and equipment will I be using?
  • What safety training(s) do I need to complete?
  • What is the expected time commitment? Are hours flexible during exam season?
  • How many people are currently working in the lab?

Step 5. After you secure a research position:

Enroll in Student Research Program or SRP-99 to receive course credit for your research

You should enroll in Student Research Program or SRP-99 because it formalizes your research on your transcript and it is an easy way to earn units for work outside the classroom.

Most on-campus scholarships and funding opportunities require you to document your research through an independent research course (99, 196, 198, 199). Already having a few quarters of SRP-99 credit will make you a competitive applicant when applying for these scholarships.

Having research on your transcript is essential if you are applying to a graduate or professional school with a research requirement.

SRP-99 is ideal for entry-level research experiences that require up to 10 hours of work per week during the academic year. If your research project requires 10-20 hours of work per week, you should enroll in an upper division independent research course.

Process clearance through the Direct Referral Program for clinical research

Students participating in clinical research with a UCLA Health or David Geffen School of Medicine (DGSOM) faculty or staff must receive clearance before beginning research activities. Visit the Direct Referral Program website for more information. 

Apply to research scholarships for funding

Our center offers a number of competitive research scholarships and programs. You should also check with your home department, the department you are doing research in, and the Scholarship Resource Center for other research scholarship opportunities.

Consider enrolling in an upper division independent research course

Upper division research courses include courses 196 (research apprenticeships), 198 (honors thesis research), and 199 (directed independent research) These courses are only open to students with Junior and Senior standing. These courses are administered by the department that offers them but not all departments offer every course. Each department sets their own eligibility, pre-requisite requirements, and grading structure for these courses. For more information, you should contact an academic counselor in the department you are interested in taking one of these courses.