Performing research can be a very enriching and transformative part of your undergraduate experience at the College. You may encounter it as part of your coursework, but it can also be something you do outside of the classroom as a way to gain practical skills, learn about methods of inquiry and contribute actively to the advancement of study in your field.
Finding a research opportunity will require you to be proactive, build faculty relationships, and use key resources. It may be good to start by charting your personal goals and interests in order to help you identify opportunities that are a match for them. Remember to give yourself plenty of time for your search and to remain flexible and open-minded through the process. Engaging with the research community at Harvard is possible for students in all concentrations. Whether you have participated in research work previously, or are just getting started, there are opportunities designed to meet you where you are right now.
Research opportunities come in many formats and happen in a variety of settings. They often start off as a question that someone wants to explore more fully. Faculty, for example, initiate research projects designed for this purpose. It might also begin with you! In your studies, for example, you may have noticed a lack of knowledge or a lack of recent work on a particular topic that interests you. With the guidance of a faculty mentor, you could be the person to explore and find answers to fill in the void of missing information.
Depending on the scale of a project, you might find yourself working on a team or operating on your own and coordinating your efforts with those of a faculty mentor. This work may take place on campus, at other domestic locations, or even internationally, during term-time or over the course of the summer.
Some common formats of research experiences for undergraduates include:
Courses (existing or independent study). Many courses at Harvard and neighboring institutions (where you can cross-register) have a strong research component. There is even the option for you to design an independent study course. To explore these options, the best starting point is with a concentration adviser knowledgeable about course offerings and policies in that concentration. You can also visit the Advising Programs Office (APO) to connect with undergraduate concentration advisers.
There are many opportunities to work as a research assistant on an existing project. A research assistantship is an excellent opportunity for students with little experience to get their first exposure to research. Research assistantship postings can be found on department webpages, at research centers, as well as on the Student Employment Office Job Board. You can also check with nearby hospitals and research groups, in addition to faculty and grad students. If you have never contacted research investigators before, check out our tips on how to effectively reach out to faculty.
In lieu of performing research via a course or an assistantship, you might consider looking at a research program. Depending on the program, you might work on a project designed by a member of faculty or propose your own question to pursue under the guidance of a faculty mentor. URAF summer programs, for example, are designed to correspond to specific academic areas (i.e., STEM, Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences), forming a cohort of fellows working on various topics in their area of interest.
URAF research programs are offered on an annual basis, with pre-set start- and end-times, and require formal applications with strict deadlines. These programs often have different eligibility criteria (i.e., GPA, class year, research experience). Some programs require previous field-specific experience, while other are designed for newcomers to that particular field of study. Many research programs include various forms of financial support (e.g. stipends, accommodation, etc.) as well as opportunities for community-building and intellectual growth.
Each concentration has its own requirements for thesis research, including topics allowed, prerequisites, timing, and who can supervise your work. If you are interested in thesis research, connect with advisers appointed by the concentrations for guiding undergraduates—information about concentration advisers can be found on the APO website. Also, check out our tips on how to effectively reach out to faculty.
Some questions to ask yourself when looking for a program are:
- Where do you want to be?
- What type of research would you like to do?
- Does the program offer additional support or programming that may be helpful?
- How long do you intend to do research?
The Browse URAF opportunities page of our website aggregates a large number of Harvard undergraduate research options. Please note, however, that not all Harvard-affiliated schools and programs are listed here. To ensure you are learning about all potential opportunities, don’t forget to consult faculty advisers, concentration advisers, and academic advisers to identify programs that match your interests and desired outcomes most closely.
Beyond browsing through URAF opportunities, you can explore our External Resources page which provides another starting point for finding research opportunities, including research programs. Some are based at Harvard, while others are located across the US and worldwide. You can also use Google to search for research programs related to your topic and interests. Try using the keywords, "undergraduate research" or "summer undergraduate research."
If you have previously performed research at Harvard, you too might consider how you would benefit from exploring external opportunities. Exposure to research and processes at different institutions will allow you to expand your professional and academic networks, to explore a new place and even new ways of investigating topics that interest you.
At whatever point you happen to be in your undergraduate trajectory, URAF is here to support you through each stage of the process. You can even check out our remote-ready resources webpages if you intend to perform all or part of your research online.