Undergraduate Research

Virginia Commonwealth University is committed to bringing the resources of a research institution to bear on student learning opportunities. A key component of this commitment is engaging our undergraduate students in research activities with an outstanding faculty. To assist in this endeavor, the Department of Chemistry is committed to enhancing VCU’s intellectual climate and developing a community of undergraduate scholars by promoting and facilitating the placement highly motivated chemistry majors in in short-term and long-term research projects across both campuses.

The university and department work under the apprentice model of undergraduate research which entails mentored inquiry, investigation, or exploration conducted by an undergraduate student that involves critical reflection and communication of results, and aims to make an intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline(s).  These experiences may be done for credit (i.e., independent study), but are not required for the student to obtain his/her degree.

Common Misconceptions

“Nobody wants an undergrad in their lab.”

This is not true at all. Faculty members enjoy working alongside undergraduates and believe that it is very important for students to get hands on experience working in a lab. They want you to feel as though you are a part of their research team and they want you to enjoy and learn from your experience in the lab. In fact, most faculty members got their start as undergraduate researchers.

“It’s too difficult to work in a lab.”

When you work in any faculty member’s lab you are working as a member of a research team. You are not expected to know everything about a subject when working on an independent study. You are expected, however, to apply your classroom and laboratory knowledge to your project and to have done your homework before starting in the lab. You will not be “spoon-fed.” Your research team members and faculty research advisor are there to help you with any questions or concerns you may have when working in the lab, but they expect you to work hard and remember what they tell you. It is a learning experience for you as an undergraduate. Faculty research advisors want you to learn and do research, but at the same time enjoy the experience of working in a scientific setting.

“I’m already taking a large course load, how would I have the time?”

Most individuals interested in taking an independent study have the idea that they will have to be in the lab from sunrise to sunset. This is a complete misunderstanding. When working on an independent study you are required to participate in lab research/activities for a minimum of three hours per week for every registered credit hour. Your schedule for working in the lab will be determined in conjunction with your research advisor and/or mentor, but you will need to be a very organized person.