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Undergraduate Chemistry
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Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

The department encourages chemistry majors and other interested students to participate in the research activities of the department.

Opportunities are available for students at all levels from Freshman to Senior year.

Students become part of a faculty member’s research group and work with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and other research scientists on projects of real scientific significance. Often participating undergraduates become co authors on papers in scientific journals.

Both academic year and summer projects are available.

Why participate in undergraduate research?

A practical reason is to become familiar with the nature of chemical research work so that you can decide if this type of career appeals to you. Laboratory research is quite different from the set piece experiments that you deal with in a teaching laboratory. Research experience is often helpful when applying for a job or graduate school, as it shows experience with independent work. It also provides a source for a letter of reference from a faculty member who will be more familiar with your abilities than most course instructors. The main reason, however, is for the excitement and satisfaction of taking new ideas, making them work, and discovering something that was not known before.

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How can a student get involved?

Talk to the faculty. If there is a type of chemistry that you would like to explore, talk to the faculty who have interests in that area, even if you never had them in class. All faculty members are more than willing to discuss research opportunities with students.

What are the types of involvement?

Participation in research can be done in several ways. All are possible during the academic year and during the summer. A student may have different types of involvement at different times.

Undergraduate Research, CHEM-2950, can be taken for credit (1 to 4 credits) as often as you like. These credits can be used as free electives in the 124 credit hours needed for graduation in Chemistry.

Special Projects in Chemistry, CHEM-2940, is similar to CHEM-2950 but is intended for projects that are not experiment based. There are limits to the number of credits that can be applied to the degree.

Undergraduate Research Participation (URP) is a program supported by the Dean of the Undergraduate College that may provide financial support for participating in research. Applications are submitted each semester; first discuss a project with an advisor.

Support from research grants. Many faculty have government or industrial funds to support their research that they can use to pay an undergraduate.

Senior Thesis. CHEM-4990, is a year long research activity covering the senior year, and culminating in a written thesis. Normally it is done in the Fall and Spring semesters of the senior year, but often it can be started the previous summer. To register for senior thesis, first establish a project by discussion with a faculty member who will agree to be your advisor. This is best done at the time of registration in the Spring semester, although it can be added early in the Fall.

Informal participation, involving no credit and no pay, can be arranged by talking to a faculty member. Some students do this solely because of interest.

What commitment is required?

The amount of time you will be expected to spend on your research will depend on the extent to which you wish to participate (number of credit hours, number of hours paid) and should be discussed with your research advisor when you begin. Most faculty will expect reasonably regular attendance in lab for at least one or sometimes two semesters in order to make the experience worthwhile.

Many students work with the same faculty member for two, three, or even four years, and become extremely knowledgeable in their research area. Others may work for two or three advisors at different times to get a broad experience in a variety of areas.

However, if after one or two semesters you find that research does not interest you, you are under no obligation to continue to participate.


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