Lab bench

Undergraduate research opportunities

Undergraduate Research is Part of a Balanced Bachelor's

Why do research as an undergrad? Isn't that for grad students?

The most common reason undergrads work on research projects is to get a recommendation letter for graduate school, which means research during junior year or earlier is the most ideal timing. But there are lots of other benefits to working on research projects!

Working on a research project as an undergrad can be a great opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge technology while tying together and extending your engineering education. Over the course of an undergraduate career you take lots of classes and hopefully finish several big final class projects. A research project will help you connect the themes of many classes together, better cementing your understanding. It may even help you figure out what other classes you want to take to finish your Bachelor's degree.

A research project can be a big achievement to discuss during job interviews or to use as a starting point for Master's or PhD work. The project advisor is usually a great choice to provide a letter of recommendation when applying for jobs or graduate degree programs. And participating in the research group can help everyone by introducing them to new ideas -- increasing the flow of what I call "ambient information" -- while also allowing you to be mentored by and learn from graduate students and faculty.

What would I be expected to do?

The Wireless Environmental Sensor Technology (WEST) Lab focuses on research toward ultra-small wireless sensor systems. We have projects that can be appropriate for lots of technical sub-disciplines within Electrical and Computer Engineering at lots of experience levels. What's important is that you diligently chip away at the project you agree to undertake. Whatever project you are working on is worth the mentor's time to manage and see through to success, so you are expected to take it seriously. In the WEST lab it's expected that everyone is working toward some publishable result, such as a poster or conference paper, presented at a suitable venue.

Successful students usually do all of the following:

The exception to the above is in emergencies: if you're in, for example, a car accident, forget about your research committments. Take care of yourself and get back to research when you're OK.

Can I get paid and/or get course credit?

Most undergrad research opportunities are on a volunteer basis to augment one's education and to prepare for graduate school with a recommendation letter. Small stipends are sometimes available with values of $500-$1500 distributed over one or several quarters. Keep an eye on your email for funded opportunities you may qualify for like MCECS URMP, McNair Scholars, LSAMP Scholars, and BUILD EXITO.

Research grant budgets sometimes include money for undergraduate students. If the faculty member you're working with happens to have undergrad funding available, expect the appointment to be hourly at something like $15/hr at 10 hrs/wk. This funding is expected to contribute to grant deliverables so expect these positions to have more required skills and higher performance expectations.

Undergraduate research can also be a great way to satisfy elective credit requirements on the way to your degree. Check with the undergraduate advisor for details about how to register. Expected time commitment for research credits is 3 hrs per week per credit hour and must include a detailed grading rubric with milestones and accomplishments agreed to by you and the faculty advisor.

I'm interested in working on undergraduate research. How do I sign up?

First get a sense of your technical goals. Think about the skills you have and the skills you want to have. Take a look at the current and proposed projects elsewhere on this website to get an idea of the kinds of projects going on in the WEST Lab. Some examples include writing firmware in C to interface with new sensors or to establish mesh wireless links, building and characterizing performance of wireless systems, and designing new analog and digital circuits to improve the core technology.

Then send me an email to request to join our weekly research meeting to meet the group and see if there's a synergistic project we can come up with. It might be that your project will require skills you need to learn on your own before taking the class that usually teaches them, which is fine; the most important factor in choosing a project is your intrinsic motivation to diligently make progress each week.