Mechanical Engineering on Tuesday September 19, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison /UKphoto

Research experiences are a great way to supplement your in-class learning at the College of Engineering. These experiences will help you to enhance your education while earning academic credit, and sometimes monetary compensation as well. Become a key member of a research team under the direction of a noted faculty member, utilize the latest equipment in our modern laboratories and make discoveries that may improve our world. 

Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

More than 33% of College of Engineering undergraduates participate in research in some form. All students are encouraged to conduct research as an undergraduate.  Students can participate in research at any point in their academic program.  You do not need to be an upperclassman to conduct research.

Undergraduate research is a great way to explore new interests, translate what you are learning in the classroom into a real-world situation, work closely with a faculty mentor in his/her research group, and gain important skills for use in the future.

There are two primary ways to get involved: The Scholars Program in Undergraduate Research or by finding a faculty mentor.

The Scholars Program in Undergraduate Research

The Scholars Program in Undergraduate Research seeks to teach undergraduate engineering students how to collaborate effectively in research settings while investigating areas of research interest within a specific discipline and gaining practical skills and knowledge for both graduate study and post-graduate careers. Undergraduate Research Scholars will have opportunities to conduct research, analyze data, present research results, network with other undergraduates with similar research interests and develop working relationships with faculty mentors and other research staff.

Finding a Faculty Mentor

To find a faculty mentor you will need find to ask yourself if a project in your major is what you need or if a multidisciplinary project would work better. Do you want to work as part of an overall research team, or do you prefer independent research? Then, follow these steps:

  • Research the researchers. Talk to current students, undergraduate and graduate. Find out what they know about what types of projects are underway or any opportunities on the horizon. Consult with your current professors. They are keenly aware of their colleagues’ projects. Finally, don’t forget to talk to your advisor. Do your best to find out who is working on what before you meet with a faculty or research staff member.
  • Make contact. Find out whether it’s better to call or e-mail the faculty member you want, and set up a meeting. Ask yourself if working on this project will provide you with the kind of educational experience you’re looking for. If it will, you’re on your way to an exciting new life experience. If not, don’t be discouraged. Make contact with another faculty member and begin the process again. Persistence pays off. You will find the right research experience for you.
  • Follow through. During the semester, put in the required time. In general, for every credit hour you will earn, expect to put in three hours of lab or other related work. Do what you are asked to do and show up on time prepared to discuss your work. Learn all you can and make as many contacts as possible. Be willing to extend yourself like never before. The payoff will be huge.

If you have more questions check out the FAQs below:

Undergraduate research experience will:

  • Enhance your problem-definition, problem-solving, and analytical skills
  • Provide active, hands-on learning, through which you can experience the application of the abstract concepts covered in your engineering courses
  • Prepare you for a rewarding career in academia or industry
  • Help you develop the skills critical to effective teamwork
  • Provide access to mentoring relationships and supportive professional networks
First, you need to think about your interests. Is there a specific topic or area you would like to research or are you open to suggestions? Once you have an idea on what you’d like to do, you will need to find a faculty member to serve as your mentor for your research experience.
The best way to find a faculty mentor is to become familiar with faculty in your department and their research interests. At the bottom of this page is a list of faculty that are currently accepting undergraduates into their labs. If you click on their name, it will take you to the faculty website that includes information about their research.  Also, you can talk to other students who have participated in research to learn about their experience with this person.  Once you have an idea about who you might work with, contact them to find out if they have openings in their lab. If yes, set up an appointment to discuss available projects and expectations of the faculty mentor.
Do your homework.  Find out as much as possible about a faculty mentor before accepting a position. During your initial meeting, the faculty is interviewing you, but you are also interviewing the faculty mentor.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to current lab members about their experience because you will be working with them as well as the faculty mentor. Seek feedback from past lab members, too. Most will be honest with you about their experience.
  • Your mentor expects that you will be as committed to your research experience as you are any of your classes. You should expect to commit 10 hours per week to your research experience during the academic year and more if you continue during the summer.
  • You are now a member of your faculty mentor’s research group. You will work with senior researchers including post-doctoral scholars, research scientists, and graduate students, but you may also work with other undergraduates. You are a contributing member of this team.
  • You are an important member of a the research group.  Communication is key to the success of this team. Attend meetings with your mentor and the research group. Share your activities and results. Most of all, if you have questions, ask!  If you encounter a problem, let someone know immediately.
  • You are expected to follow all established laboratory procedures involving safety and research integrity.
Yes, it is possible to receive academic credit for undergraduate research. Speak with your faculty mentor regarding expectations (number of hours spent on research each week, preferred method of communication, meeting schedule, reporting activities and results, assessment and grading, etc.) to receive academic credit and how to register for the course.  In most cases, your academic advisor can assist you with registration.
Possibly.  Your faculty mentor may or may not have grant funding to pay you a stipend for your work.  Some faculty mentors may want you to volunteer first or receive course credit before getting paid.  If you do a great job, they may be willing to have you continue your research with pay.
Yes!  There are a number of opportunities available presenting your research, both on-campus and off-campus. Check with your research mentor on the best forum for your particular work. Most professional societies host undergraduate research sessions at their annual meetings. In addition, other opportunities include the following:

  • Showcase of Undergraduate Scholars

    http://www.uky.edu/chellgren/undergraduate-research/showcase-undergraduate-scholars

    This event gives undergraduate students from across the University of Kentucky a forum to present their research to the university community and general public. The date for the 2018 showcase is Wednesday, April 25. For more information, visit the Showcase website.

  • Posters at the Capitol

    http://www.uky.edu/chellgren/undergraduate-research/posters

    This annual event is held at the state capitol in Frankfort. Undergraduate students from the eight state-supported universities present their research to state legislators with the aim of increasing an understanding of the important role of undergraduate research in the Commonwealth. The date for the 2018 event is Thursday, March 8.  Detailed information may be found at the Posters website.

  • National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR)

    http://www.uky.edu/chellgren/undergraduate-research/NCUR

    This is the annual conference dedicated specifically to promote and celebrate undergraduate research. It is held at a different university each year. The University of Kentucky hosted NCUR in 2014.  The University of Central Oklahoma will host the 2018 conference April 4-7, 2018.  For additional information including deadline dates and poster submission information, visit the NCUR website.

Yes.  These programs are called different names depending on the funding agency.  At the National Science Foundation (NSF), these programs are called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). NSF funds a large number of REU programs at universities across the United States. These ten-week programs usually consist of 10 – 15 undergraduate students at each site with each student assigned to a specific research project, faculty mentor, and laboratory.  Students also participate in professional development and social activities. Participating students receive a stipend and usually receive lodging and help with travel expenses. REUs are in any number of areas with many in science and engineering from nanobiotechnology to renewable energy to aerospace engineering. Each site has a specific application deadline usually in January or February of each year.  Applications include letters of recommendation. More information regarding NSF REU’s can be found at https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp

Faculty and Staff Researchers Mentoring Undergraduates in their Research Programs

Here is a list of current faculty and research staff currently mentoring undergraduates in their research programs. This list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any questions, contact Dr. Kim Anderson at kimberly.anderson@uky.edu.

Robert Adams – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sean Bailey – Mechanical Engineering
John Balk – Materials Engineering
Dibaker Bhattacharyya – Chemical Engineering
Sebastian Bryson – Civil Engineering
Mei Chen – Civil Engineering
Zhi David Chen – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Henry Dietz – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Kevin Donohue – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Thomas Dziubla – Chemical Engineering
Gregory Erhardt – Civil Engineering
Isabel Escobar – Chemical Engineering
James Fox – Civil Engineering
Martha E. Grady – Mechanical Engineering
Eric Grulke – Chemical Engineering
Jeffrey Todd Hastings – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Jane Hayes – Computer Science
Zach Hilt – Chemical Engineering
Jesse Hoagg – Mechanical Engineering
Dan Ionel – Electrical and Computer Engineering
Barbara Knutson – Chemical Engineering
Alexandre Martin – Mechanical Engineering
Lindell Ormsbee – Civil Engineering – www.uky.edu/WaterResources – www.uky.edu/superfund/
Kelly Pennell – Civil Engineering
David Pienkowski – Biomedical Engineering
Mike Renfro – Mechanical Engineering
MIchael Sama, Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering
Simone Silvestri – Computer Science
Suzanne Smith – Mechanical Engineering
Mariantonieta Gutierrez Soto – Civil Engineering
Joshua Werner – Mining Engineering
Guoqiang Yu – Biomedical Engineering