If you’re ready to start researching, we’re ready to help. Below are PCUR’s tips for finding and funding research opportunities that match your passions and career goals.
How to choose a program: What am I interested in?
This is a huge question — If you ask it too many times, you can get lost (What do I want out of my life?). Try to identify the field(s) or themes you are most interested in (e.g. Education, environmental justice, heath, …), so that they can inform your ultimate career goals. Think about what you would like your day-to-day research environment to look like, too (e.g. An office, a lab, an archive…). If you care deeply about environmental issues but don’t love office work, computer programming for energy efficiency may not be for you.
After considering your research interests and day-to-day preferences, relax. Try something that interests you and see how you like it. Try something that builds on your previous skills. Or try something new, challenging, and meaningful. If you approach research experiences with genuine openness and a positive attitude, you’ll find your true interests and maybe even your career.
How to find research programs through Princeton: Where do I start?
The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) lists a variety of research-related programs, including collaborations between freshmen and sophomores and graduate students (known as ReMatch), and on-campus opportunities to present your work. OUR also keeps a database of fall-spring research opportunities, summer research opportunities, and their corresponding deadlines. You can search these opportunities by class year and area of interest.
Princeton’s professors can also be a great resource for learning about research opportunities and offering advice. Cold-emailing a professor can be intimidating, but it can lead you to rewarding research experiences (something Vidushi and Dylan have previously shared). Start by introducing yourself, including all the basics (your name, major/prospective major, etc.) and a sentence or two at most about your background. Explain how you came across the professor and what in particular about their work interests you. If you have specific ideas for a project, now is the time to share them! If not, that’s OK; let them know what sorts of project you’d be interested in. The professor might happen to be planning a project that matches your interests (or know of a colleague who is) — and they may ask if you’d like to help, or connect you with other faculty.
How to find off-campus research opportunities: Where should I look?
There are many field-specific resources you can use to find the right research experience for you. For students interested in the fields of science and engineering, The National Science Foundation (NSF) has an excellent summer research programs database. NSF funds a variety of research internships known as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), which are held at various host institutions. Similarly, for those interested in medical research, The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) lists over sixty institutions offering programs for undergraduates.
Additional programs are available through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which offers health-related research opportunities ranging from environmental health sciences to biomedical research. If you are interested in NIH programs, you may find it helpful to read about past participants’ experiences here.
For students interested in government, policy and archival research, the Library of Congress‘ Junior Fellows Summer Intern program has research positions in law, information technology, humanities, art and culture, and more. The U.S. State Department is also a useful resource; it lists over thirty policy think tanks with summer research programs for college students. The Leadership Alliance is another great source of structured summer research experiences for students interested in non-lab science fields, including the humanities and arts and culture.
How to make it happen: Where can I apply for funding?
The best place to start is Princeton’s Student Activities Funding Engine, commonly known as SAFE. You can use SAFE to search for funding from academic departments, certificate programs, topic-based awards, and the Office of Undergraduate Research. Funding is available to support a broad range of opportunities — including summer internships, junior and senior independent work, conference travel, lab materials, and more. Be sure to read the requirements and guidelines provided by each funding agency before requesting funds.
For self-designed projects, you may be able to secure funding through your professor, project adviser, or through SAFE under the “independent project” activity type. Some professors receive grants to conduct various types of research projects; if your project fits the grant’s requirements, your professor may choose to fund your project using their grant! You should speak directly with the professor to see if this is a viable option.
Finally, when in doubt, reach out to departments, programs, or the Office of Undergraduate Research. They can often direct you to funding sources available outside of SAFE.