• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products via PF Here!

When in your undergrad should you start research?

  • Thread starter brushman
  • Start date
At what point in your undergrad should you start applying for research programs and talking to your professor's about research opportunities?

Right at the beginning of your freshman year? After your first semester? Beginning of sophmore year...?
ASAP, but you often won't have relevant coursework 'til at least sophomore/junior year. It mostly boils down to the professor and lab you want to work for, and the field. Sometimes being a freshman is fine, though often you'll be paired with someone more senior in the lab.


If you plan on going to grad school and getting a PhD, start doing research as soon as possible. It not only looks good for grad school (and might get you a publication or conference poster) but helps you decide if grad school and a research career are really what you want to do (I've supervised a few undergrads who should have taken the opportunity to realize research probably isn't the best career for them, but it's hard to tell them that to their face, and they didn't catch on - they will eventually). But it can be hard to find a professor willing to take on a freshman, so good luck.


Science Advisor
At what point in your undergrad should you start applying for research programs and talking to your professor's about research opportunities?

Right at the beginning of your freshman year? After your first semester? Beginning of sophmore year...?
If while you're studying you see a problem and think you have a novel way to solve it then go ask your professors for guidance and they can steer you in the right direction and hopefully get you started.

You'll more than likely develop specific interests in a particular area. The lecturers will (hopefully) have the experience in what they are teaching and you can always get ideas for further reading which will hopefully generate ideas for possible further research.

It definitely in my mind takes a long time to see the forest from the trees. When I started doing math I had commercial experience in programming with computational geometry, AI, computer graphics and related areas. It took me a while to realize that most of mathematics could be boiled down to one thing: transforms.

When I thought in that manner, everything from proofs, to group theory, to calculus and analysis, topology etc made sense in a unified view of mathematics. Its not to say that everything is all about transforms but it has helped me see what the goal of what in my view most mathematics is about (ie starting with a representation, axioms, linear system etc and using specific transforms to end up at some point where an analysis can be made to solve the particular problem in some context).

Its probably going to be unusual for anyone to see the forest from the trees in their freshman year, but if your curious and take two step forwards and one step back, talk to your lecturers and fellow classmates, read the literature, and have some end goal in mind, you will most likely come across a problem, or generate an idea that directs you to something more specific. Typically though for this to happen we have to know a lot of math and then bring everything together of which our knowledge and reflect on it.

For me personally I'm researching a specific integral transform that relates discrete sum series with z being an element of the integers [ie Sigma f(z)] in both a finite and infinite domain to the integral representation where the domain is the real number (ie Integral f(x)dx where x is an element of the reals).

I wish you all the best.


This probably depends on what field you're in: physics, math, computer science, basket weaving?
If someone doesn't get into any research until their junior year, how bad is that? Because it looks like that's probably what's going to happen to me.

Gib Z

Homework Helper
How much knowledge should an undergraduate have to begin research? It seems like it should be a lot, but then again I've heard freshmen talking about it like it happens not so rarely. My university offers Summer (Dec- Feb down here) Research projects, and it says it is open to "exceptional first years" in addition to 2nd and 3rd year students. How exceptional is exceptional?

I've been allowed to accelerate some classes, one being Sophomore Real and Complex Analysis. Should I do well, they will allow me to do Senior Complex Analysis in the second semester. Say I go well in that as well, will I be able to do any research?

If I pushed myself and learned about Metric Spaces by the end of the year, then would I be able to do research?


Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
2018 Award
If I were you guys (and I was), I'd spend the first 2 years making sure that my grades are as high as I can get it. Especially for freshmen, you need to make sure you adjust for college life and get into the rhythm of being on your own and being responsible for your actions.

If you have strong grades by the end of your 2nd year and can devote extra time for research work or experience, then by all means, go find something to do. It will also give you plenty of time to know who's who in your department and who's doing what, rather than just blindly looking for something to do when you are new there.


Vanadium 50

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Also, the idea to do research so "it doesn't look bad" misses the point. You should be doing it because you're going to get something out of not, not because of how it will look.


How exceptional is exceptional?
Surely someone in your department would be able to answer that better than us all out here? :smile:

Based on what you're taking now, I think you'd be considered "exceptional" for a freshman at most American universities, but things may be different where you are.

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving