Finding a Faculty Advisor
A good faculty advisor is very important to a successful research experience. You will want to find “a match” with someone you can talk to/work with over the next two or more quarters. When choosing a faculty advisor, you are encouraged to remember that the research project must be mutually acceptable to both you and the faculty member. There is no guarantee that the first faculty member approached will say yes, so you should understand the research/thesis process and identify a faculty advisor and a topic before you begin your senior year.
Acceptable faculty advisors should hold a tenure-track position at UCI (assistant, associate, or full professor). If they are not tenure-track, and have not been previously approved (by working with an honors student before you), you will need to submit documentation about your potential faculty advisor to the Honors Director for approval. Follow the Campuswide Honors petition process online to request an exception. As part of that petition, be sure to include information on your proposed faculty advisor (highest degree held and from what school, faculty’s prior experience working with undergraduate research, faculty’s interest/expertise in the area you plan to study, and anything else you think might be helpful in the Honors Director’s review of your request.
In order to identify a suitable faculty research advisor, find out something about their background and current research interests. Look them up on their departmental website. Each school maintains information on each of their faculty members, the current research interests, etc. on their departmental websites. You can also check if prospective faculty research advisors are part of any of UCI’s various research centers. Finally, you can see if they have a profile on the UCI Faculty Research Profiles or a listing on the UROP’s website (check out their “On-campus opportunities listings”).The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) website in general can be a very useful research resource. You can review their “Researchers’ Handbook” which has useful faculty information and helpful ideas on how and when to approach a potential faculty advisor, how to conduct yourself throughout this process, and how to work successfully with your advisor. The section about “How to Get Started” is a must read before beginning your search for a faculty mentor. You can also explore the various research and creative on-campus opportunities with faculty or off-campus opportunities with industrial partners, national labs, and other universities. Also, talk to other students who are currently doing research, or see one of the Honors Advisors, to find out more about specific faculty and the kinds of research honors students have done in the past. Campuswide Honors has a list of faculty research advisors, which is available in the Honors Office during regular business hours.
Finally, if you have difficulty finding an appropriate faculty advisor, the school honors advisors, department chairs, UROP counselors, and other faculty may be able to refer you to a potential faculty advisor.When you go to talk to potential faculty advisors, be as clear as you can as to why you are interested in working with them and their particular area of research. Bring a copy of your transcript and resume with you, in case they ask to see them.If you have questions or concerns (for example, how many hours a week will you be expected to work in a lab, or whether you’ll be getting a letter grade or P/NP for your work each quarter, or what deadlines will be used?), jot them down beforehand, and discuss them with potential faculty advisors before you make a final decision.Encourage your potential faculty advisor to talk to the Honors Director if he/she has any questions or concerns of their own. Some students may feel they need two faculty advisors (from different departments/schools), and in certain cases, this might be very appropriate. Make sure both advisors are aware of this arrangement and agree to work “together” with you. Talk about how grades will be given, who is responsible for reviewing and approving your final honors thesis, and who will sign the Thesis Approval form.
See Suggestions for Contacting/Meeting a Prospective Faculty Mentor and Strategies for a Successful Undergraduate Research Experience for further help and suggestions.
How to Identify and Cultivate a Relationship with a Faculty Mentor
Faculty generally do welcome student contact and are very interested in honors students. However, before you go knocking on their doors, asking them to be your faculty mentor and oversee your independent study or undergraduate research experience, be sure you have done your homework. You should have already put some thought into potential topics – maybe even have explored them through some preliminary research or coursework. Be flexible and prepared to compromise. Decide whether working with a specific faculty member is more important than working on a specific project (or vice versa). Some ways to identify potential faculty mentors* and/or research topics: look at the course listings for topics/subjects in which you are interested; take those classes and get to know the professors by taking advantage of their office hours; perhaps even participate in an individual study with a potential faculty mentor (these courses are usually numbered 199). If you are already interested in a specific topic for an independent study or your thesis, bring a short written outline or abstract when you go talk to the faculty. Include (and be prepared to elaborate on) your idea/area of interest, what strategies you feel will be needed to accomplish your project goals (i.e., will you need to do field work, library research, etc.), and your expectations of the faculty member (time line for completion, how often you think you will need to meet, how many units you want for the work, what grade option is desired). A copy of your most recent UCI transcript may be helpful but is not always necessary.
If you are interested in working with a specific faculty member on his/her research project, be prepared with some knowledge of the project itself. Ask how you could be involved – what exactly would you be doing, and if there is room for developing an independent honors project within their project and under their guidance. Professor Danziger has talked about exploring your “personal compatibility” with a faculty member. You must be compatible both with regard to the subject in which you are interested, and the “fit” of your personalities. An individual study with a particular faculty member (i.e., 199s) is an excellent way to explore that “personal compatibility. “Each school/major is different. Some, such as the School of Engineering, may offer off-campus as well as on-campus research opportunities; some areas are experimental, some more theoretical. In units such as Humanities, you probably would not be involved in an individual faculty member’s research project, but rather, you would be proposing your own project, which you would complete under a faculty member’s guidance.
Whether you work with your mentor on his/her project or your own, be open to and respond to his/her suggestions, feedback, and instruction. Interact in a very real sense of the word and let your mentor know that his/her contribution to your thesis project was a valuable part of your education and that his/her time and effort was well-spent.
Ultimately, the success of your project will depend on your interest, initiative and motivation. Start early. There are many exciting, well-respected, and interesting faculty members involved in all kinds of research here. Your thesis project will not be easy, but it could be one of the most rewarding parts of your years and education at UCI.
* Many departments have lists online that described their faculty and their areas of interest /research. Take a look at your academic unit’s Faculty/Research webpages or at the faculty information available on UROP’s webpage. Talk to your academic counselor, one of the honors advisors, or other students who are already involved in research. There are research surveys and other useful information we have on file in the Honors Office. If you have an assigned faculty advisor, ask him/her for suggestions regarding faculty who are in their departments/schools. If you are interested in one of the upper-division, major-specific honors programs offered at UCI, you may also talk to the appropriate faculty contact (see Honors Programs at UCI & Program Contact Information).