Frequently Asked Questions


What is research? What are the benefits of research experience?

What is Research? 

Research is a systematic inquiry that investigates hypotheses, suggests new interpretations of data or texts, and poses new questions for future research to explore.

Research consists of:

  • Asking a question that nobody has asked before;
  • Doing the necessary work to find the answer; and
  • Communicating the knowledge you have acquired to a larger audience.

What are the benefits of research? 

There are many benefits to being involved in research opportunites. Hands-on experience assists you in acquiring real-world skills, increasing your professional network, applying classroom knowledge in real-settings, building your resume, and more.

Undergraduate research helps to foster faculty-student collaboration within and outside the university. You have the opportunity to share in a professional researcher's work, to learn how he or she formulates a significant question, develops a procedure to investigate it, obtains research funding and other resources, gathers and examines evidence, follows hunches, and evaluates and shares results with the scientific community.

Getting involved in research allows you to draw together classroom learning and particular interests to contribute to the design and execution of a research project.

What activities are involved in research?

In practice, research methods vary widely, depending upon the academic discipline’s accepted standards, the individual researcher’s preferences, or a particular study’s needs. Research in science and engineering often involves conducting experiments in the lab or in the field. Research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences may include archival work in the library or on the internet, conducting surveys or in-depth interviews, and a wide range of creative and artistic projects- from costume design to playwriting to curating a fine arts exhibit. 

Research is not a solitary activity –but an act of community. As a member of the research community, you build on the knowledge that others have acquired and provide a road map for those who follow. You add to a body of work that will never be complete. Research is an ongoing, collaborative process with no finish line in sight. 

Is research right for me?

To determine if research is right for you, consider the following:

  • Are you interested in a more thorough exploration of a subject you are already familiar with?
  • Are you interested in being introduced to a new subject?
  • What motivates you? Trying what others have never done? Getting to know faculty better? Exploring the real-world by undertaking research with an external organization?
  • What do you hope to gain from the research experience? Do you want to help create new information and knowledge? Practice or develop new skills?
  • Do you want to test your skill sets in a professional setting to determine your likes and dislikes?
  • Are you hoping this experience will help you decide whether to attend graduate or professional school?
  • Do you have time for a 10-15 hour/week commitment? Can you commit during the quarter, multiple quarters, or summer? 
  • Do you wish to receive academic credit?
  • Do you want/need a salary/stipend/scholarship?
  • Are you willing to do volunteer work?


What is applied learning? What are the benefits of applied learning?

Applied learning integrates classroom learning with real-world situations. The opportunities found in the REAL Portal:

  • Involve “learning by doing”;
  • Have learning objectives relevant to academic or career pursuits;
  • Build one or more real-world skill; and,
  • Include a mechanism to evaluate learning.

What are some examples of applied learning? 

  • Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation: Whether in science, technology, or social context, innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a product, service, or strategy that is of value to a customer or to society.  Entrepreneurship is the process of creating businesses or organizations. Many campus centers and institutes support student-led innovation and entrepreneurship activities.
  • International: Opportunities to expand cross-cultural skills, perspectives, and knowledge, to re-evaluate personal and professional goals through study, work, internships, or volunteer opportunities around the world.
  • Internship: A temporary position in a professional work setting with an emphasis on learning. Internships may be full-time, part-time, academic, paid, unpaid, on-campus, and/or off-campus.
  • Leadership: The ability to inspire or influence others to accomplish a common goal. Leadership opportunities involve strategic thinking, working in groups, problem solving, effective communication, decision-making, and more.
  • Research: A systematic inquiry that investigates hypotheses, suggests new interpretations of data or texts, and poses new questions for future research to explore. Research can be conducted on-campus with faculty and research staff or off-campus with industries, research institutes, government agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and more.
  • Service Learning: Participation in a service activity that meets identified community needs, while emphasizing student learning and civic engagement.  Service learning opportunities may be one-time, short-term, or long-term projects connected to credit-bearing courses, or structured co-curricular programs.
  • Tutoring: Teaching and assisting other students with academic work. The campus has various tutoring programs for students to teach, counsel, and mentor peers or K-12 students in the San Diego region.

What are the benefits of applied learning? 

Participating in applied learning opportunities can help you:

  • Translate classroom knowledge to real-world situations;
  • Develop a deeper understanding of course materials; 
  • Gain real-world skills that are valued by potential employers and graduate programs;
  • Explore career pathways; and,
  • Build a network. 

Where do I start? How can I find opportunities?

Start early

One of the keys to a successful undergraduate research or applied learning experience is to give yourself enough time to explore opportunities and lay the groundwork for finding a faculty mentor, advisor, or organization. Students are encouraged to explore available opportunities as early as possible to plan ahead.

Many opportunities are available for UC San Diego students. Depending on your professional and academic pursuits, the type of experience will vary. Are you available to study overseas? Would you like to volunteer for a community-based organization? Are you interested in conducting research in a faculty lab? These are some questions you can ask yourself to get started. Then figure out the type of opportunity, timeframe (sophomore year, year-round, summer), compensation method (paid, volunteer), location (on/off campus) and other details. 

Explore opportunities

There is an abundance of research and applied learning opportunities available if you are proactive in your search. The key is finding an opportunity with the right faculty and/or organization to explore your interest and abilities. 

  • Keeping in mind your interests and goals, search available opportunities on this Portal. Be mindful that some opportunities may be eligible for academic credit, a stipend, or part-time salary.
  • Explore these opportunities further by visiting faculty or company websites, reading recently published work, or getting firsthand information from your friends, teaching assistants, and academic advisors.
  • Identify one or more opportunities aligned with your interests and goals.
  • Contact a faculty member directly (email or office hours) or an organization to express interest in their work. 
  • For research and applied learning in a particular discipline, check with the academic department or program.
  • Find research opportunities and funds with one of several undergraduate research scholarships.

Apply to opportunities that match your interests and goals

  • Determine your eligibility: Look for eligibility requirements, including GPA or ethnicity, citizenship, or other conditions of participation. International students need to confirm work authorization.  
  • Apply for those positions using the method and style indicated within the posting (e.g. email, PDFs, online application).

    UC San Diego's Career Services Center offers:

Create and maintain an online profile

This Portal provides a database of student profiles to UC San Diego faculty, research scientists, industry partners, and the public. Maintaining an up-to-date profile on the Portal will increase your visibility to potential advisors and employers.

  • Login to the profiles page.
  • Enter the requested information or, if you have a LinkedIn account, import your profile information.
  • Keep in mind:
    • your profile should clearly present your relevant experience, competencies, and future goals;
    • the statement of purpose or other narrative should be authentic, thoughtful, and concise; and
    • typos and grammatical errors reflect poorly on an applicant’s professionalism and attention to detail.
  • LinkedIn provides additional guidance on creating a complete online profile. 

What is the best way to approach a professor or an employer to get started on research experience or applied learning?

First, search for opportunities that are current on this portal, then apply using the method indicated within the posting. If you have a specific professor or a company in mind that is not actively offering an opportunity, then a succinct email indicating your interested in their work, your experience and capabilities is suggested. If you are approaching a professor, you may also visit during office hours. For companies, you many inquire about doing an informational interview.

How can I get paid?

To secure funding for your research or applied learning experience, you may:

  • Search for a paid position within opportunities;
  • Apply to a program that offers participants a stipend; or
  • Secure your own funding. To secure your own funding, explore the on- and off-campus funding sources below.

Funding from UC San Diego

Funding from off-campus sources

  • Explorers Club: Applicants propose a field project under the supervision of a research supervisor.
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute: The Janelia Undergraduate Research Program engages science, engineering and math students in the Institute's research fields.
  • National Science Foundation: Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs fund research projects to include undergraduate participation. Talk to your research advisor about applying for an REU supplement. 
  • Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society: The Grant-in-Aid of Research Program awards grants of up to $1,000 to students from all areas of the sciences and engineering.
  • Smithsonian Institute: The Institute offers various internships and fellowships.
  • The National Institute of Health: The Summer Internship Program (SIP) provides undergraduates with biomedical research opportunities.
  • The Leadership Alliance: Summer Research - Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) encourages undergraduates in the sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities to pursue research careers.
  • UNCF/MERK Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship: This is for African American undergraduates who wish to pursue research in science and engineering.


Some on- and off -campus opportunities come in the form of work-study positions. To learn more about work-study and how you can find work-study research positions please visit the Financial Aid Office and the Career Services Center.

Is funding available to support project costs and/or travel to conferences or competitions?

Can I earn academic credit?

As an undergraduate, you can earn academic credit for research experiences and applied learning through Special Studies Classes (97, 98, 99, 197, 198, or 199). 

  • The 97 and 197 courses are for individually arranged field studies, including off-campus internships through the Academic Internship Program (AIP)
  • The 98 and 198 courses are for directed group study.
  • The 99 and 199 courses are for individual independent study, including research experiences. 

These courses have different eligibility and criteria. Read more about how to enroll in Special Studies Classes and check with your Department for additional requirements. 

Can I volunteer?

Yes you can. Undergraduates who wish to engage in research or applied learning opportunities may approach faculty or external partners for volunteer positions. In this case you may want to consider receiving academic credit for your experience. Please be aware that if a student (intern) decides to volunteer for a for-profit company, according to the Department of Labor, all of the following criteria must be met for the experience.

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

After I find an opportunity, what's next?

Who does my work belong to? Can my work be published?

When a student is selected for a research, internship, or other opportunity with an organization, some steps need to be considered to protect both parties. In addition to the considerations below, the student and the organization should have a learning agreement, indemnification agreement, waiver and proof of insurance in place.

Intellectual Property (IP)

Undergraduate students are not subject to the University’s patent and copyright policies while engaging in tuition supported course activities.  As such, under many circumstances undergraduate students own any Intellectual Property (IP) they create and are free to assign those IP rights to others.  It should be noted that undergraduate students who join a faculty research lab or make material use of a University resource not otherwise provided in exchange for their tuition, may be subject to the UC Patent Policy and/or UC Copyright Policy.

During an internship, it is expected that students will be embedded with the host company and will make meaningful contributions towards the goals of the company.  The quality and depth of the student’s internship experience may depend upon the company’s confidence that they will not lose control of their IP.   A willingness to assign IP developed by the student during an internship should be a clear expectation for both the student intern and host company.  

To avoid any potential conflicts between host company IP expectations and UC policies on use of funds, resources and facilities, student internship activities should be thoughtfully managed by the company and University.

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) 

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) are customary between parties seeking to engage in collaborative efforts while ensuring that their ideas are protected from third party disclosure.  A NDA not only protects a company from having its sensitive business information shared with competitors, it also ensures that potentially patentable innovations remain unpublished for purposes of seeking “first-inventor-to-file” status with the US Patent and Trademark Office.   Undergraduate student interns should expect to enter a NDA with their host company, covering the activities related to the internship.  University faculty, graduate students, staff and other researchers may also enter NDA with host companies but should be sure the terms of the NDA are not in conflict with preexisting employment obligations under the UC Patent Policy and/or UC Copyright Policy.  Questions in this regard can be fielded by UCSD’s Technology Transfer Office at

Research & Internship Compliance

The student researcher or intern will demonstrate professional and ethical conduct in the workplace such as punctuality, dress code and professional communication. Organizations will also treat the student researcher or intern with the same level of respect they show their employees.  Organizations will provide training for the student researcher or intern where necessary. These may include issues relating to general lab and chemical safety, biosafety, animal welfare, controlled substances, etc. 

Can my work be published? 

Sharing your findings with others in the academic community and the general public is an essential component of research experiences and applied learning. Common formats for disseminating information include books, peer-reviewed journal articles, oral presentations, and poster presentations. If you have contributed substantially to a project, undergraduate students may be able to publish their findings either as part of a larger effort or as a stand-alone work. Consider the following: 

  • If your work contributed significantly to a book chapter or paper submitted by your research advisor, you might be included as a co-author or listed in the acknowledgements.

  • UC San Diego's Writing Center holds frequent workshops related to research (e.g., Formulating a Research Question, Writing About Data, Preparing an Annotated Biography, etc.). Check the workshop schedule for details. 

  • Always consult with your advisor(s), and obtain their approval, before submitting any scholarly work for publication or presentation.