Research experiences come in all shapes and sizes!

This page is intended to help students navigate aspects of a research experience that are generally shared across disciplines. If you have questions about your specific research experience, we'd be happy to help answer them during our drop-in undergraduate research advising hours or over email at [email protected].

When interacting with your mentor, it is important that you advocate for your needs. Do you feel that you're working too much or too little? Do you need to either start getting paid or find a different paid job? Is it a busy week and you need to focus on your studies? Do you need more help understanding your research methods? Do you wish your mentor would give you more responsibility? Do you want to be involved in the writing process? We hear from students all the time who are struggling with issues like these. In most cases, your faculty mentor will be supportive of your needs if you make them known. If you don't bring issues like these up, your mentor may not know something is bothering you. During our drop-in advising hours, we coach students on how to navigate these conversations with their faculty mentors.

In some cases, your research mentor will require you to complete a certain set of trainings before you begin (e.g. ethics training, safety training, protocol training, etc.). It's important that you ask your mentor if any trainings or certifications are necessary. Take good notes when your mentor tells you which trainings you need to complete and let your mentor know as soon as you finish them. Make sure to keep a record on file that you've completed each training. Sometimes you will be sent a confirmation email. In other cases, you can take a screenshot when the training says you're finished.

If your project involves human or animal subjects, you will need compliance oversight through IRB or IACUC, respectively. Ask your mentor if this is necessary for your research and for advice on how to proceed.

Visit our CITI Training page for information on completing CITI Training courses.

Regardless of the field you're in, it's important to keep track of the work you've done. Having a record of your work will help you look back at the methods you used and remember the important thoughts and questions you had in the moment. Keeping a record of your work is also a great way to remember the new skills you've gained when updating your resume!

Some faculty mentors require students to keep an organized record of their work (e.g. a lab notebook or a shared Google Doc). We highly recommend keeping detailed notes about your research even if your mentor isn't requiring it. Your future self will thank you!

Every once in a while, a student comes to us for advice on how to inform their research mentor that they need to transition out of their research experience. There could be various reasons for this, such as financial constraints, other time commitments, heavy school demands, or simply a change in academic interests. When a student comes to us in this situation, we encourage them to consider these questions:

  • The first couple of weeks of any new job can be hard because everything is new and you haven't had time to get to know your colleagues. Have you given yourself some time to settle in and see if your perspective changed?

  • If you were getting paid, would you still be interested in this position?

  • If you felt more comfortable communicating time constraints to your mentor, would you stay in this position?

  • If you could take a break (ex. a week, a month, a term), would you be interested in coming back to this position?

  • Are you no longer interested in this position?


Ultimately, you know what's best for you! If you feel there's a better research experience for you, or you no longer want to engage in research, we can help you navigate a change. If you are certain you want to move away from your research position, here is some guidance on how to communicate this to your mentor.

  • A compliment sandwich is a great way of breaking the news. Start with a thank you, throw in the news, and end with your appreciation for the experience!

  • We suggest scheduling a date for when you plan to leave the lab, so it is not extremely abrupt and your research mentor isn't left with too many incomplete tasks.

  • Everyone in the university setting understands that this is a demanding time in our lives, and overcommitment is rough. It’s important to keep in mind that your mentor won’t hold this against you!


Example email:

“Dear Professor XXX,

I want to start by saying that my lightning talk at the Summer Symposium was very well received. Thank you so much for all of your guidance and the time you committed to serving as my mentor this past year. I am writing to update you about some changes in my life. As I transition into my junior year, I plan to take a heavy course load. I have also taken on several new employment opportunities to mitigate financial concerns related to COVID-19. Due to these changes, I feel that I can no longer commit to engaging in research with your team. If you would like, I’d be happy to meet and discuss these concerns with you in person.

Again, thank you so much for serving as my mentor and contributing to my professional development. I’ve learned so much from this experience and have enjoyed working closely with you and the graduate research assistant. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to explain a lot of new concepts concerning our project. Working as a team has given me really good exposure to what effective, collaborative research should look like. I hope to still occasionally check in on everyone’s progress and say a friendly hello. 

Please let me know what you think, and thank you for your understanding.

Best, Student”