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Undergraduate Research

Chemistry was named a "University Exemplary Department" in 2009 for integration of research into undergraduate education.

The Chemistry Department encourages all qualified chemistry majors to participate in at least one research project during their time at Virginia Tech. Suitable research projects can usually be designed to match both individual scientific interests and career goals.  In many cases, projects can be continued for more than one semester. Credit for undergraduate research is obtained by enrolling in CHEM 4994.

How to Get Involved

  • Make sure you're qualified.  You need a minimum GPA of 2.5, a minimum of 28 credit hours completed at VT.  
  • Review the list of undergraduate research projects (PDF) to find a project that interests you.  Individual research mentors may have additional requirements or course prerequisites for some projects.
  • Students interested in research should contact a research mentor at least one month prior to the start of classes to explore the availability of the project and make other arrangements. 
  • The student and research mentor should jointly complete the "Undergraduate Research Request Form," available on the College of Science forms web-page (link)
  • On the Undergraduate Research Form, obtain the necessary signatures from research mentor ("instructor" for CHEM 4994), and your academic advisor, and then give the form to Anna Hawthorne in 3110 Hahn Hall South. She will obtain the Department Head's signature and route the form to the College of Science Dean's office for processing. Students should note that the Dean's office will not process these forms after the "Last Day to Add" deadline of each semester.

Additional Policies

  1. Students cannot register or make changes for CHEM 4994 on Hokie SPA. Please ask Anna Hawthorne to correct any errors or make changes before the "Last Day to Add" deadline.
  2. No more than 8 hours of independent study and/or undergraduate research combined may be counted toward a degree (students in the Honors Program may be approved for more than 8 hours). 
  3. Chemistry majors doing research for 3 or more credits in a given semester are required to participate in the end-of-the-semester Undergraduate Research Symposium, often held in the afternoon on the last Friday of the term.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is undergraduate research?

Essentially you work directly with a faculty member, who will help you choose and design a research project that meets your individual interests and goals.  You carry out the project in the faculty member's research laboratory, usually with day-to-day supervision by a graduate student or postdoctoral associate.  You will interact, throughout the semester, with the faculty member to receive guidance on technical details and on the interpretation of your results.  Ultimately it is hoped that you and the faculty member can report your work at a conference or publish it in a journal.

Do I have to enroll in CHEM 4994 to do research?

Yes.  For legal reasons, you have to enroll in CHEM 4994 in order to participate in research.  Credit is obtained by enrolling in CHEM 4994 for those semesters in which the work is to be performed.  The only exception allowed is when you are conducting the research as "work for hire" (in other words you are being paid as a technician).

What are the advantages of doing UG research?

The opportunity to be directly involved in scientific discovery is a primary reason for attending a research university like Virginia Tech. You gain perspective on the emerging areas within chemistry. You also learn if a research career might be right for you. Skills and knowledge are developed that extend well beyond what you typically learn in courses. Involvement in research builds scholarly independence, teamwork, and communication skills. Research experience greatly improves your competitiveness for entry into graduate and professional programs and in the job market. 

What are the disadvantages of doing UG research?

The main disadvantage of research is that it requires a strong commitment on your part to manage your schedule so that the time spent doing research does not erode your classroom performance.

How do I approach faculty members about their research projects?

Start with the list of professors with undergraduate projects available (PDF).  If a professor's name is on that list, that means he or she wants to be contacted.  Contact one or more professor, usually by email, express your interest in research, and set up an appointment to discuss possible projects.

Does my research mentor automatically become my academic advisor?

No. Your academic advisor does not change, but you might find your research advisor to be very helpful in directing you in career decisions.  One mistake that students sometimes make upon getting involved in undergraduate research is that they forget to talk to their academic advisors..

How can I find out what "individual requirements and course prerequisites" professors might have?

Sometimes this information is in their projects descriptions (PDF).  Otherwise you have to ask.  They are usually not shy about providing this information to you.

How many credits hours of CHEM 4994 should I take?

You may enroll for 1 to 19 credits.  Typical is 2 or 3 credits. Expect to spend 3-4 hours in the lab per credit. (You should ask prospective research mentors about their expectations.)  Chemistry majors enrolled in CHEM 4994 for 3 or more credits and CHEM B.A. majors who are using research to fulfill a ViEWS requirement are required to take part in the undergraduate research symposium at the end of the semester. All other students enrolled in CHEM 4994 are encouraged, but not required, to take part in the symposium.  Individual research mentors may also, at their discretion, require your participation in the symposium even if you are enrolled for fewer than three credit hours.

How is my grade determined for research?

Grades are determined by the research mentor, but you will have discussed these expectations when filling out the IS/UR form. The College of Science will not process IS/UR forms which do not include specific evaluation criteria.

  • Using the P/F option is recommended for your first semester of research.

What happens if the project I am given does not work?

The outcome of a research project is unpredictable. However, your grade will depend on the evaluation criteria previously agreed-upon by you and your research mentor. Therefore your grade will not necessarily be dependent on getting a certain result.

Can I enroll in research for credit during the summer?

Yes, you must be enrolled in one or both summer sessions to receive academic credit.

Under what circumstances can I be paid for my efforts?

Professors with sufficient research funding may offer a wage to students who conduct research in their laboratories. However, due to conflict-of-interest issues, students may not be paid for their research work during a semester that they are also enrolled in Undergraduate Research (CHEM 4994). Students typically participate in research during the academic year by enrolling in CHEM 4994. Wage appointments are more typical during the summer and are predicated on the availability of grant support.