FAQs about Undergraduate Research and Research Awards


Undergraduate Research

Q: How can I get involved in undergraduate research?

A: Students who conduct research as undergraduates find the experience very rewarding.  But it takes initiative to get involved. 

Start by clarifying your interests:  politics or biology, nursing or studio art?  Go to symposia and research presentations to learn what questions are being asked, and which ones spark your curiosity.  Your path into research will depend on your area of interest.  Find out how other students with your interests get involved:  Is there a research methods class you need to take?  Could you be a research assistant?  If you’d like to join a laboratory, find out how that’s done in your department:  Should you start by contacting the director of undergraduate research (if there is one) or specific faculty members? 

The Center for Undergraduate Excellence holds a Research Opportunities Fair in early November each year at which students can find out about research opportunities throughout te University.  The Undergraduate Research Network helps students get involved in research by presenting workshops throughout the year. 

Q: What is in the Center’s database of research opportunities?

A: The Center’s database lists over 50 research opportunities falling roughly into two categories.  First, there are research awards available to U.Va. students.  These include the Harrison Award, the Double Hoo grant, the University Award for Projects in the Arts, and others.  These awards fund independent scholarly, creative, or research endeavors undertaken with the guidance of a faculty advisor. 

Second, there are summer research programs.  These include: National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates programs at various locations; the Amgen Scholars Program; programs at Cold Spring Harbor, Janelia Farm, and the Jackson Laboratory; and other opportunities.  Students selected for these programs generally receive room and board along with a stipend. 

Our database does not include information on specific U.Va. research projects with openings for undergraduate researchers.  We encourage you to visit departmental web sites for more information on ongoing faculty research.

Research Awards

Q: How do I apply for a research award?

A: The University of Virginia has numerous research award programs that provide funding for student research projects.  Each of them requires you to submit a short but well thought-out research proposal. 

For example, a Harrison Award proposal should discuss:  (1) Your research question and appropriate background information; (2) your proposed methodology; and (3) the potential outcome of your project, its implications, and limitations of your research.  You must also submit a timeline in which you explain the chronology of your research.  You need to arrange for a letter of recommendation from the faculty member who would advise you on the proposed research, as well as one from another faculty member. 

Applying for a research award takes substantial planning; you won’t be able to do this overnight.  Instead, take the long view:  as you discover your academic interests and plan your course of study, start thinking about the questions that interest you most.  Take research methods courses in your field so you can develop the tools to answer those questions.  Get to know your professors by going to their office hours or joining a lab.  As you start thinking about a possible research question, discuss the project with potential faculty advisors.

Here’s another reason you’ll need to plan ahead:  programs like the Harrison Award are yearlong endeavors in which students generally carry out their research over the summer following the year they apply, continue it into the fall, and turn in final reports and make presentations the next spring.  This means first-, second-, and third-year students can apply for these awards, but fourth years cannot.  If you think you may want to apply for an award to allow you to conduct research for your distinguished majors thesis or capstone project, as many students do, you’ll need to start thinking about your project early--perhaps even before you know whether you have been accepted to a DMP program. 

Q: May I apply for multiple awards?

A: Although you may apply for multiple awards for the same research project, you should not expect to receive more than one award, and it is important to be explicit in your application about other awards you have applied for or received.  It is the intent of the Harrison Award program and other U.Va. undergraduate research grant programs to support as many qualified proposals as possible. While we encourage students to apply for any funds for which they are eligible, it is unlikely that students will be selected to receive significant funds from more than one competitive source.

Q: Can I propose international research?  Are there any additional requirements?

A: Many students propose international research projects, and these projects can be quite successful.  However, international research requires significant advance planning. 

First, you need to consider why your project requires international travel; in other words, ask yourself whether your research question can be addressed just as well using resources available in the United States. 

Second, consider the country you are planning to visit.  Is it the appropriate country for your research?  Why have you selected it?  How well do you know its culture and language? Have you obtained affiliation with an appropriate institution that will support your research? Have you thought about logistical issues, such as where you will stay and how you will get around? Are there safety concerns, such as crime, or a U.S. State Department travel warning or alert?   (You will not receive U.Va. funding for research in a country where there is a travel warning.)

When you apply for a research grant, such as the Harrison Award, part of the application process involves registering with the International Studies Office and completing an international travel form.  (The form asks questions similar to those in the previous paragraph.)  If your project is selected for funding, you will be required to attend an ISO workshop to help you prepare for international research.  You will also need to complete the ISO registration process by providing information--such as your itinerary, location, and contacts--and obtaining emergency insurance. 

Q: What is the Institutional Review Board?  How do I comply with IRB

A: Many research projects involving human subjects require approval by one of the University’s Institutional Review Boards.  Students applying for a research award through the Center for Undergraduate Excellence will be notified if their proposed research may require approval.  Students are responsible for complying with this requirement and will not receive funds unless they do so.  For more information on the IRB, we encourage applicants to watch the presentation available at:  http://www.virginia.edu/vpr/irb/learningshots/Undergraduate_Research/player.html

Q: What can I put in my budget?

A: If you apply for a Harrison, Double Hoo, or University Arts award, all of which are administered by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, you will submit a proposed budget with your application.  You may ask for any amount up to the limit of the award ($3,000 for the Harrison Award, for example); if you are selected for the award, you will receive your budgeted amount.  Acceptable budget items include:  summer living expenses (e.g., rent on a Charlottesville apartment while you carry out your research); travel costs (airfare, etc.); books and equipment required for your research; laboratory supplies. 

Funds are disbursed using two different methods:  (1) payment to you as a stipend or (2) payment into a departmental research account.  If you have budgeted funds for living and travel expenses, including the purchase of any items you will buy yourself, you will receive these funds as a stipend.  If you have budgeted for laboratory supplies that will be purchased by your lab, then the amount budgeted will be placed into a departmental account; these funds may not be used to pay you a wage.

If you receive a Harrison, Double Hoo or Arts award, the Center will review your budget before disbursing the funds, and you will have the opportunity to make revisions.  Revisions require your faculty advisor’s signature. 

Offices that administer other research awards may follow different procedures. 

Q: When will I receive my funds?

A: Funds are processed during the summer using the Student Information System.  Generally, Harrison Awards are processed in early June, and Arts and Double Hoo Awards in late June or early July. 

Faculty advisors for the Harrison, Double Hoo, and Arts awards receive research funds in recognition of their important role; these are disbursed in July.

Offices that administer other research awards may follow different procedures. 

Q: What if I need to change my project after I receive a research award?

A: Please consult with the Center for Undergraduate Excellence about your specific situation and the reasons for the change.  Generally, we recognize that unexpected events are a normal part of research and can lead to the need for revised projects; in this case, we will require you to submit a revised proposal with your advisor’s signature.  Keep in mind, however, that your Harrison Award was made based on the proposal you submitted: it is highly unlikely that a brand-new proposal in a different field will be approved. 

Harrison Awards

Q: May I submit a joint application for a Harrison Award?

A: Yes.  Together, applicants turn in one proposal, budget, advisor letter, and cover sheet. The proposal should explain each applicant’s role in the research. The project should have a single faculty advisor; the advisor’s supporting letter must discuss all applicants. Individual components of the joint application that must be provided for each applicant are: a letter from a second recommender, transcripts, and a discussion of relevant background and coursework. The total budget may not exceed $3,000. The application will be assessed as a single application.

Q: Are Harrison Awards limited to a particular field?

A: No. Each year, awards are made for projects in a wide range of disciplines, from astronomy to nursing to English literature.  Undergraduates in all fields and schools at U.Va. are encouraged to apply for a Harrison Award to support their research projects.  Proposals for interdisciplinary projects are also welcome.

Double Hoo Awards

Q: What makes a strong proposal for the Double Hoo award?

A: The Double Hoo award is intended to encourage collaborative interaction between the undergraduate and graduate communities at the University.  We're looking for solid research proposals that really are "joint"--the undergraduate needs to be an active member of the team, perhaps even pursuing an independent question, and the graduate student needs to understand his/her important mentoring role.

Q: May a team of three students apply for a Double Hoo research award?

A: No.  The Double Hoo research award is specially designed to provide a graduate student and an undergraduate the opportunity to conduct research together, with guidance from a faculty advisor.  The graduate student is able to develop important mentoring skills, and the undergraduate takes on a project that might ordinarily be out of reach, while getting a taste of graduat-level research.  An application that lists a different number of students (e.g., more than one undergraduate) will not be considered.