Undergraduate Research Frequently Asked Questions

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

Please note: For all general COVID-19 guidelines related to research, please refer to information outlined on the Protect the Pack page.

Current Projects

We remain committed to your current projects being conducted and will not withdraw or revoke any funding. We understand that changes will need to be made—and some goals abandoned. We've all had projects fall apart and have learned from that.

Proposed Projects

Awarded applicants (with the endorsement of their mentors) will be allowed to make changes to their proposals to accommodate (if possible) the evolving situation, but substantial changes affecting the scope of the projects might need additional approval. We remain flexible to your changing needs in the present situation and are committed to addressing unique research changes with that in mind. Changes to current proposals should be communicated to us via email at ugresearch@niu.edu.

Note: Some changes may require additional review to maintain compliance with university compliance policies and procedures.

Frequently Asked Questions

How will my reimbursements and expenses be affected by the current situation?

We are unable to accommodate budget changes to the expenses/reimbursement awards at this time, but will allow awardees to submit revised budgets if the total amount and the scope of the project are the same.

  • Reimbursements/expenses already spent:
    • For all expenses already spent there is no change and we will still need the original receipts and any other necessary documentation (conference agendas, per diem information).
    • During this time, we ask that you provide electronic copy of this documentation and follow up with originals as soon as we are able to be on campus.
  • Reimbursements/expenses awarded to students though My Scholarships, but not spent:
    • If you were awarded money to purchase materials or travel airfare, but you did not purchase those yet due to COVID-19 implications on your research or travel, please contact us as soon as possible at ugresearch@niu.edu and indicate the amount and explanation why.
    • Travel expenses that have not been spent and can be utilized at the later time (the conference was canceled, but could be attended next year) will be considered but will require additional approval.
  • Reimbursements/expenses still in need of purchase for project completion:
    • For spring 2020 or postponed completions in fall 2020, please submit your request to ugresearch@niu.edu


What is undergraduate research?

Undergraduate research and artistry programs at NIU allow you to explore the unknown through hands-on work with faculty members. Inquire about questions that interest you, work with a faculty mentor and build a foundation for professional or graduate work. You may do undergraduate research in your major or another field of interest. Undergraduate research encompasses arts, humanities, social science and physical science.

Can I do undergraduate research only if I am a science major?

You do not have to be a science major to participate in undergraduate research. Many students each year do undergraduate research in the social sciences, fine and performing arts, business, humanities, etc. Almost every discipline has undergraduate research opportunities.

Do I have to be a junior or a senior to participate in research?

You do not need to wait until you are an upper division student to participate in research. Many freshmen begin working with faculty mentors by performing support work as volunteers or earning a stipend through the Research Rookies program designed specifically for freshmen and sophomores.

Do I have to do research in my major?

You do not have to do research with a faculty mentor in your major –– you can do undergraduate research in virtually every academic discipline at NIU. For example, if you are a psychology major, you can do research with a sociology or marketing professor, or if you are a biology major, you can do research with faculty in engineering, geology or anthropology.

If I plan to go to graduate or professional school, do I need to do undergraduate research?

Undergraduate research is generally not a requirement for admission to graduate or professional school. However, it is one aspect of your application that can demonstrate your intellectual abilities, academic engagement, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Put your energy and enthusiasm into undergraduate research that reflects your interests and passions.

How early do I need to start thinking about a project and finding a mentor?

You can get involved with undergraduate research any time throughout a semester, especially if you volunteer. Typically, faculty mentors look for students at the beginning of a new semester. Additionally, if you want to apply for a funded program, you need to have a faculty mentor and research proposal by the application deadline, which is dependent on the specific program. To participate in programs over the summer or in the fall, you want to start the process very early in the spring semester or earlier. If you would like to conduct your research during the spring semester you would want to start contacting your potential faculty mentor early during fall semester.

How do I find a mentor?

One way to get started in research is to identify some topics, ideas, or activities that interest you.

  • What have been some of your favorite classes? What about these classes interested you?
  • What would you like to learn more about?
  • What types of research have you done in previous classes? What did you like about this research, and what didn't you like?
  • What kinds of skills and knowledge would you like to develop, either for personal fulfillment or for a future career?

After you have some ideas, there are several ways to find a faculty mentor.

  • Review the faculty profiles on your department's website to gain a sense of each faculty member's research interests. Make a short list of a few faculty whose research interests you.
  • Don't limit yourself to finding a research mentor in the department that matches your major.
  • Before you contact a research mentor, do your homework. Read about their research on their website and look up a couple of their publications so you can appear knowledgeable when you talk to that person.
  • Contact a potential mentor. Tips for success:
    • Be professional. Write your email and conduct your conversation in a respectful tone, particularly if you have not worked with this person before.
    • Be able to articulate why you are interested in research and what you'd like to learn.
    • Discuss your general research interests as well as the more practical aspects, such as how much time both you and the mentor expect to devote to your research.
    • Be brief. Faculty members receive many emails so be aware that a short paragraph is much more likely to be read than a two page email.
Do I get paid for doing research?

All of the programs offered through OSEEL compensate and fund student researchers. There are sometimes opportunities for undergraduate researchers to be paid by a faculty mentor. However, often to receive an undergraduate research experience, you only need to find a willing mentor and work out an arrangement with them. Many undergraduate researchers volunteer.

  • Don't get discouraged if the first research idea that you have doesn't pan out. Be persistent and you'll be able to find a good mentor and research opportunity. Remember that staff at the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning are here to help you! Send us an email at ugresearch@niu.edu or call us at 815-753-8154.
  • Be willing to start at the bottom and take advantage of what opportunities that are available to you. You might start out doing a research task that is repetitive, but you'll be able to move up to more complicated research procedures as you gain experience.

Contact Us

Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning
Holmes Student Center 264-266
Back to top