Getting Started in Research Independent Study

Getting Started

  1. Identify Research Problem — You and your research director need to agree on a clear statement of the research problem that you will pursue. In order for your research director to define the scope of your problem, you need to make clear to him/her the number of semesters that you plan to devote to research independent study.
  2. Develop Project Schedule — You and your research director need to agree on a schedule of times that you will work on your project. Plan on devoting 10-15 hours per week on your research, split between laboratory research and library research. Consider this schedule to be part of your obligatory weekly schedule (it is replacing TBA on your official DukeHub schedule). You may, of course, request occasional variations in the schedule from your research director, but such requests should be made seldom, in advance, and the time should be made up.
  3. Secure Project Location — Your research director needs to assign a space where you will do your research. Your research director will need to arrange for your card/key access to the space. Although you will have access after hours, you should NOT plan on carrying out any laboratory operations unless someone else is present in the lab.
  4. Complete Safety Training — You should undertake the formal safety training recommended by your research director. You should also familiarize yourself with the safety features of your research lab. Learn the locations of fire extinguishers, first aid kit, eye wash fountain, emergency shower, nearest fire alarm pull station, the nearest exit in case it becomes necessary to exit the building in an emergency evacuation, and the external meeting location for the research group following an evacuation.
  5. Apply for Funding — You should apply for some local funding made available by the university to augment any funding that your research director may already have obtained for your project. The procedure and the application form for obtaining a university grant are available at the Duke Undergraduate Research Support site. Since this funding pool is limited (about 50 grants of $350 per semester) and awards are made on a weekly basis beginning the first Monday after the end of Drop/Add in a semester, you should apply as soon as possible. This application requires a research proposal including a budget of equipment and supplies that will be purchased. You will probably need significant help from your research director in preparing this proposal since your knowledge of the project is understandably limited at this time.
  6. Get to Know Your Group — Although you will be participating in “independent” study, you will not start out being very independent. There is a steep learning curve in research so expect to be almost totally dependent on other members of the research group for guidance as you begin your research. A typical academic research group consists of a faculty member, post-doctoral student(s), doctoral candidate(s), and other undergraduate(s) pursuing independent study. All members of the group will be willing to help you. As you gain experience, however, you are expected to become more and more independent in your own research and more helpful to others in the group.