Undergraduate Research

Experience in a research laboratory is now considered a vital part of any course of studies within the sciences. The Chemistry Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recognizes the importance of this research experience and offers numerous ways for students to participate in faculty mentored research. We advise Chemistry majors to become involved in research as soon as their course of studies allows. Generally this means finding a research advisor and beginning a project by second semester of the sophomore year or first semester junior year. However, there are faculty members within the Chemistry Department who eagerly accept Freshmen and Sophomores in their research groups.

Independent Research allows students to become involved in a wide range of research projects in federally funded University labs. Students are encouraged to consult with the Chief Undergraduate Research Coordinator or their Advisor to discuss decisions about research opportunities. The following paragraphs detail the expectations and the protocol to follow when you apply to join a research group. 

Research-Based Courses

All Chemistry majors can take independent study each semester beginning their freshman year and all the way to their senior year. The courses are dependent on your academic year, not credit year and are indicated as:196, 296, 396, 496 for freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors respectively. The research is supervised by faculty sponsor who determines direction of project, nature of reports required, and grade and credit awarded. 3-4 hrs lab work per week per 1 unit is expected. This course cannot substitute for CHEM 388 or CHEM 499Y/T. Additional Independent Study (396 or 496) credits earned during their junior and senior year satisfy Group B requirements toward the required 12 credits of advanced electives for B.S. majors. B.A. majors can take Independent Study (388, 499Y/T, 396 or 496) to satisfy Group A requirements toward the required 9 credits of advanced electives.

Students pursuing the Bachelor of Science in Chemistry are required to take Chemistry 388 Independent Research Project (3 cr) or if they are members of the Commonwealth College may instead enroll in Chemistry 499Y and 499T Honors Thesis (3cr. each). The research project may consist of laboratory work or theoretical work or both. Project and research director selected by student with consent of instructor and departmental Undergraduate Research Coordinator required. About 8-10 hours of independent work per week, in close consultation with research director, culminating in written and oral reports. A copy of the written report must be included in the student's academic folder. The recommended timing for 388 is second semester junior year or senior year. Chemistry 499Y is typically taken fall senior year and 499T is taken the spring semester. Directions from the CHC are found on the website: https://www.honors.umass.edu/

Students pursuing the Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry are not required to take any research-based courses; unless they are members of CHC in which case they may have to fulfill the Honors Thesis requirement (Chem. 499Y and 499T).

Important Note: In order to participate in research and enroll in research-based courses, students must obtain the necessary laboratory safety certification; additional information is available from Undergraduate Program Manager in the Department of Chemistry Undergraduate Office.

Summary of Registration Procedure:

  1. Identify your areas of interest and possible faculty mentors.
  2. Meet with Undergraduate Research Coordinator and identify possible research groups.
  3. Contact the faculty mentor.
  4. Meet with the faculty mentor.
  5. Enroll in the course by completing and submitting the Undergraduate Permission Form.

It is imperative that you plan ahead and arrange to take research-based courses the semester before you plan to begin research.

Where can you look for faculty mentors?

Chemistry students need to identify potential research labs and a faculty mentor. We recommend students pursue research with Chemistry Faculty however, the department doesn’t have enough faculty to accommodate all of the majors. As a result, Chemistry majors are permitted to do Independent Research in labs outside of the Chemistry department pending approval of the Chief Undergraduate Research Coordinator.

Chemistry CHC students are strongly encouraged to do their Departmental Honors Thesis work in Chemistry labs, if possible (Chem 499Y and 499T). However, in the case where a CHC student pursues work in a lab outside Chemistry, they must have a Chemistry faculty member serving on the thesis committee. The Honors Program Director, has to sign their approval of the Honors Research Contract and accompanying preliminary proposal before enrollment in Chem 499Y/T. See the CHC webpage describing the requirements for the individually contracted Honors Thesis proposal.

To begin the process: Identify your interests

  • When you are considering what research lab to join, decide what type of research interests you. There are many faculty members on campus who are conducting research that requires the use of Chemistry. A good place to start is the Chemistry’s Faculty & Research page. Other places are Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Physics, Biology, Polymer Science, Food Science, Nutrition, Geoscience, and Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Remember, if you are pursuing a research outside of the Chemistry department, the research you carry out must be chemistry focused.
  • Identify several faculty mentors who’s research interests you and with whom you may want to work. Several mentors should be identified because you may not be able to join your first choice.

Meet with Undergraduate Research Coordinator or Advisor

  • Have a list of research interests/long term goals
  • Have a list of possible faculty mentors and why they interest you
  • Meet with the Undergraduate Research Coordinator or your advisor to discuss your choices.

Contact Potential Faculty Mentors

  • In the cover letter your major, class year, experience, career goals and interests, and express why you are interested in their lab. Provide a resume and your transcript. CNS Career Services and UMass Career Services can help you compile an appropriate resume and cover letter.
  • Request an appointment to discuss a possible research project.
  • Allow adequate time for the faculty to respond. If necessary, send the faculty mentor a polite follow up email. This process should be started before you even arrive on campus at the beginning of the semester to allow for adequate lag time.

Meet with the Potential Faculty Mentor

  • Learn the about the PI’s research, the approaches and methodologies used in their lab.
  • Prepare questions to ask the PI about the research and specifically inquire about projects available for undergraduate independent research.
  • Think about how much time you have available to work in the lab each semester, and take into account your other time commitments when you consider the number of academic credits you want to earn each semester. Most faculty want a minimum commitment of 3 credits or 9-12 hrs of research each week.
  • Independent Study (Chem X96 or X96H) credits can range from 1-6 per semester depending on the number of hours per week that a student works in the lab. Chem 388 is 3 credits and the Honors Capstone Experience (Chem 499Y and 499T) earns 3 credits per semester.

Enroll in the Course

  • Chemistry majors complete the Undergraduate Permission Form found in the Undergraduate Program Office. You will be registered for either Independent Study course Chem 196, 296, 396, or 496, depending on your class year or Chem 388.
  • Chemistry Honors students obtain an Honors Independent Research form either from the CHC website. Complete this form with the PI, and submit it in ISB 341 for the Honors Program Director’s signature. Once this is signed, you will return the form to CHC and they will register you for the appropriate course (Chem 196H, 296H, 396H, 496H).
  • For the Capstone Experience, obtain the appropriate forms, fill out as above and follow the CHC’s procedures.