Undergraduate Research

The other half of a great education

UC Santa Barbara is renowned as a research university, and the College’s undergraduates are as much a part of the research community as the faculty and graduate students.

Duc Trong Duong, one of the winners of the 2010 Chencellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, with his adviser, Thuc-Quyen Nguyen, Associate Professor of Chemistry. Photo by Jan Adelson.
Duc Trong Duong, one of the winners of the 2010 Chancellor’s
Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, with his adviser,
Thuc-Quyen Nguyen, Associate Professor of Chemistry.
Photo by Jan Adelson.

Research offers undergraduates the opportunity to delve deeper into any subject, whether in a science lab, at the library, in the field gathering data or interviewing subjects, or even by making a film. Research opportunities often begin with a student's direct contact with a faculty member: a student may approach a faculty member because of an interest in his/her research field, or outstanding students may be invited by faculty to join their research groups (especially in the sciences). Students may also become involved in research by applying for summer research opportunities such as the Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology Worster Summer Research Awards, the UC LEADS Program, or the Research Internships in Science and Engineering

A research project may be undertaken as part of regular coursework or as independent study. It may be part of a departmental senior honors program, although research projects are not limited to seniors or members of the College Honors Program. Students may work individually or in groups to complete their research projects. A research project may be the capstone of a student’s undergraduate career, be continued through further research and study in graduate school, or possibly take the student in a new and unknown direction.

Read what student researchers have to say. Visit the Office of Research for information about research opportunities for undergraduates.

Part of the Division of Undergraduate Education, the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities unit  – URCA - provides both guidance and financial support for undergraduates pursuing independent research and creative activities under the guidance of faculty members. URCA also helps students to apply for prestigious scholarships, like the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, that can support research work and graduate study.

For students interested in research, the first step is to approach a faculty member and express an interest in and willingness to become involved in research activities. Students may be familiar with professors through their course work and approach them directly, or they may find interesting contacts and opportunities through the Faculty Research Assistance Program. Through FRAP, students may connect with faculty researchers via an online data base of current research projects. Students apply directly to the faculty members, and if accepted, sign a “research assistance contract” and earn credit for their work. FRAP is an excellent way for undergraduates to work closely with faculty members, gain experience and learn valuable research techniques which they can apply to their own work.

URCA provides funding for UCSB undergraduates, regardless of class standing and college affiliation, to pursue their own research projects leading to a senior thesis or distinction in their major. Students who receive funds from URCA present their work at the annual Undergraduate Research Colloquium, which takes place in May and is open to students from the College of Letters and Science, the College of Engineering, and the College of Creative Studies. Early in the fall quarter, interested students submit a proposal, budget, and letter of endorsement from the faculty mentor. URCA also organizes grant proposal workshops to assist students with the preparation of their applications and at the same time develop skills that will be useful in future.

In 2010, URCA disbursed $35,000 to 95 students. At the 2010 Undergraduate Research Colloquium, 152 projects were exhibited, covering almost the full range of subjects taught at the University. They included film and media studies (My Last Day, a film); psychology (Attitides and Perecptions of Mental Health Among Black/African-American UCSB Students); chemistry (New Materials for Organic Solar Cells); physics (Infrared and Millimeter Correlation); political science (Unintended Consequences of Political Sanctions); classics (The origins of Athenian Democracy); feminist studeis (The Decriminalization of Prostitution); art (Activities and Adornments); anthropology (Tsimane Personality); and marine science (Biological Control of the New Zealand Mud Snail).

Each year the University recognizes the research achievements of three outstanding undergraduates and one outstanding faculty mentor with the prestigious Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.

The 2010 Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research was given to Professor Victor Rios (Sociology). In just four years at UCSB, he has has made enormous contributions to the formal research training and mentorship of undergraduates. For his various projects on youth violence, gangs, and juvenile delinquency, he has recruited over 60 undergraduate student research assistants. He has trained them in sociological research methods, and included them in his ongoing research projects in Santa Barbara, Oakland, and Compton. He has done so outside his required teaching load, even when he was released from teaching for a year when he received a Ford Foundation Fellowship.