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California State University, Long Beach
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Student Research FAQs

Common Questions

Academic Preparation and Credit

Beginning the Search for a Lab (On-Campus)

Specifically for Math Majors

Comparing Research Opportunities

Additional Resources


How will research experience help me find a job?

It will help you with developing real-world skills sets that are not necessarily taught in classes or scheduled laboratories but are very relevant to employers. In many instances this will involve training in the use of specialized equipment and protocols as well as hypothesis testing, and data collection and interpretation. It provides the applications between classroom theories and real-life scientific explorations. It helps translate "what do you know" into "what you can do" - a critical interview question asked by employers. In some cases, you may also have an opportunity to publish your work alongside a professor.

Can I get paid to do research?

It depends. There are a number of institutional research programs available through the College and specific Departments that provide student fiscal support in the form of stipends or wages. These programs have an application process and they typically have eligibility requirements. Most are training internships and normally do not require prior research-related work experience. There are also paid research positions associated with grants obtained by individual professors. Candidates for these positions typically apply directly to the Professor and these positions normally require related practical research experience.

How much time will it take and what is the expected commitment?

For course credit you can typically expect to do 3-4 hours of research related activities per week for each unit of undergraduate course credit. There are no comparable guidelines for volunteer researchers but it is wise to only commit as much time as you can comfortably afford to dedicate. Most professors will indicate what their expectations are ahead of time and, once you are in agreement, they are counting on your consistency and dependability as part of their research team.

Can I receive academic credit for doing research? How?

Yes, you can receive academic credit for conducting research in a professor's lab by signing up for a one-unit seminar course (NSCI 496). Some degrees and options also allow you to take up to 3 units of Directed Research (Bio/Chem/Geo/Phys 496  and Math 496/497) within the discipline as an elective towards your major - check the CSULB Catalog.

What classes do I need to complete before I start doing research?

Your acceptance into a research laboratory is by consent of the advisory Professor. Each professor's requirements vary, but most prefer that you have completed a laboratory course (i.e., Chemistry 111A) before joining their lab. Some prefer that you have additional coursework completed as well. It always helps if you have obtained a good grade in one of their classes and have made their personal acquaintance during office hours.

How do I begin searching for a research experience?

Do some homework. Seek out information about faculty members and their areas of interest. There are several places you can find this information:

  • Undergraduate Research Binder in the SAS Center (updated annually)
  • Informal seminars on campus
  • Your course instructors
  • Your peers (especially those who may already be working in a lab)
  • CNSM departmental websites (each department has one, and they usually list faculty research interests).

Who do I need to talk to?

You'll need to talk to the faculty you might be interested in working with. A couple things to consider:

  • Be prepared to talk about why you want to do research; what your research interests may be, and how it ties into their research
  • Ask about their expectations of their research assistants - time commitment, role in lab
  • Be prepared to talk about your future goals
  • Ask about the structure of the lab - who will you be learning from, what kinds of teams they work in
  • Talk to other students in the lab
  • Get to know the culture of the lab, see if it is a good fit for you
  • Show that you would take this opportunity as a serious commitment
  • Read some of the scientific articles they have recently published  as well as other authors in their field of research so that you can meaningfully discuss their science; Professors love to talk about their own science. Many professors have electronic copies of their publications on their research website. You can also track down their articles by using the electronic resources at the library such as database searches such as Science Direct or Web of Science.

But I'm a Math major! What research can I do?

A number of the math faculty are actively involved in conducting applied, theoretical and statistical research. Moreover, faculty in the other departments are constantly looking for math students to help compile their data, model it, display it or analyze it. Contact the Math Department Chair or the Math undergraduate and graduate advisors for more information.

On-Campus Research Experiences

  • Undergraduate research assistants: work in a professor's lab, typically for course credit under "directed research" or "independent study", are introduced to the theory, concepts and materials, technology and skill utilized in a laboratory. Depending upon the project, they may be paid for participation.
  • Graduate Assistants: work in a professor's lab, typically are completing graduate degrees in that particular area of research, and may lead a particular project area of the lab.
  • Volunteer researcher. Students can also volunteer in a professor's laboratory. These are unpaid positions and do not have course credit. The time commitment as a volunteer is generally more flexible and less demanding than other research activities. Tasks are generally more menial, but it is a good way to assess whether "research is for you". Also the skills that you acquire will help with your professional development portfolio. Many professors require volunteer activity to show dedication and commitment before they will allow student to take course credit or enter a paid position in their laboratory.
  • Research programs: There are a number of research programs for students that are funded by federal programs. Students admitted to these programs are generally provided salary for participation, either during the summer or throughout the academic year. These programs normally have eligibility requirements and a competitive application process. For further information regarding these funded research programs, contact the SAS Center.

Summer REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates)

  • Provide access to work in a research lab at a public or private institution under the supervision of a faculty research advisor
  • Last between 6-10 weeks
  • Vary in admission criteria and research emphasis
  • Offer stipends, housing, and travel reimbursement
  • Typically funded by a federal grant program
  • Offer opportunities to build teamwork skills, meet other students in a unique research setting, and clarify your career aspirations.

Summer Enrichment Programs

Most Summer Enrichment programs are summer residential programs for undergraduate students, which last anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks. Some programs may focus on strengthening necessary study skills such as problem solving, time management, and note taking. Other programs introduce students to science or health careers.

Comparison Table

The following table explains the difference between on-campus, academic year research, a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs), and a Summer Enrichment experience.

Type of Program Duration Admission Emphasis Nuts & Bolts Benefits
On campus Volunteer Research Varies but normally a few hours per week that are flexible Permission of professor Basic laboratory procedures and skill building. Often involves a training component Not for course credit or payment Allows both the student and the professor to assess aptitude and desire to be involved in research. Provides basic laboratory skills needed by most employers
On campus Programmatic Research Opportunities (undergraduates) Varies from one summer to up to three years Normally has eligibility criteria (financial need, ethnicity, GPA etc) and requires a formal application, review and selection process Typically related to a programmat-ic theme that involves only certain participating professors Generally does not offer course credit. Normally paid, sometimes offers tuition and funds for books Provides team building skills, presentation and often publication possibilities. Often directed towards higher education or a certain career opportunity. Will often involve travel to a conference
On-Campus Individual Research Opportunities (undergraduates) Varies by professor (i.e., summer, academic year, year-round) Typically, certain course prerequisites; need to contact professor or meet for an interview Professor's area of research interest Typically offers course credit, some positions may be paid Meet others in similar lab experience; career path development; introduction to using specialized lab equipment
Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) Typically 6-10 weeks in the summer Admission criteria vary, but usually a) personal statement; b) application; c) letter(s) of recommendation; d) GPA; e) specific major Emphasis varies according to program Typically offers housing, stipend, and travel reimbursement Build teamwork skills, meet other STEM majors in a unique research setting; clarify career aspirations
Summer Enrichment Programs Typically 4-10 weeks in the summer Admission criteria vary, but usually a) personal statement; b) application; c) letter(s) of recommendation Varies, but may include study skills, time manage-ment workshops, test preparation, introduction to science or health careers Typically residential programs Allows for specific opportunity to improve skills, and enrich one's academic progress towards earning a degree

Where can I find additional web resources?

Clearinghouse websites with extensive lists

Short checklist for getting into a research lab

  • Decide that you are committed to finding and participating in a research experience
  • Find listings of different research opportunities
  • If on-campus, meet with faculty member(s)
  • Take necessary prerequisite courses