courtesy of kent state university
Emmanuel Quainoo, a graduate student in the Mwongela Research Group.
develop a method to find peroxide
explosives on clothing at a ppb level
using mass spectroscopy?” applied
research projects are less open-ended
than those involving basic research
and lead to more definite applications in the “real world.”
if you want to be able to tell your
friends and family about a tangible
application of your research, you
should probably pursue a more
applied project. if you are more
interested in learning something new
and exciting for its own sake, either applied or basic research
might work well. often, professors will have ideas for projects
that span the continuum between applied and basic research.
When should I do research?
the short answer to this question is, “summer.” it is not wise
to try to cram your first research project into a regular semes-
ter. undergraduates are notoriously busy people, and you do
not want to put yourself in the position of having to choose
between doing research and completing your regular course-
work. summer will provide you with many continuous weeks
devoted solely to your project, free of the distractions of the
normal school year.
another advantage of doing research during the summer is
that professors tend to have smaller teaching loads, and there-
fore are less distracted and can devote more time to mentoring
undergraduate research. remember to devote the last couple
of weeks of the summer to writing the results of the project in
a concise document with the aim of aiding other students who
might continue in the same line of research.
after you have completed one or two summers of research,
you might consider taking a reduced
course load one semester and signing
up for some hours of independent
research credit. research during the
semester will be a good test of your
ability to juggle multiple responsi-
bilities. this experience would be
very similar to the first few years of
chemistry graduate school, where stu-
dents are required to start graduate
research while teaching several lab
or recitation courses, and it may help
you to decide if you can handle the
challenges of graduate school.
the semester will be a
good test of your ability
to juggle multiple
Which research area is best for me?
there is no chemistry research project that works equally
well for all students. for example, if you hate column chromatography, then organic synthesis might not be a good choice. if
you enjoy analyzing the same types of samples over and over
and then finding meaningful patterns in the data, you might
prefer research involving analytical chemistry.
Many professors are both teachers and researchers, and many
are willing to design undergraduate projects related to chemical
education for students who plan to teach. do not be afraid to
suggest a project topic to one or more faculty members at your
institution. you might be surprised when they are able to find a
connection between your interests and ideas of their own. they
may even want to collaborate with another faculty member to
advise you on a cross-disciplinary project.
Keep in mind that some advisors might require that you
complete some prerequisite coursework before starting
research. But this is not always the case; many projects can be
easily adapted for students with nothing more than general
How do I prepare for my project?
you should never begin a project without devoting several
days to researching the chemical literature on your chosen
topic. this ensures that you are not “reinventing the wheel” by