Guide to Chemistry Undergraduate Research at The University of New Hampshire

The UNH Chemistry Department highly encourages students pursuing a Chemistry degree to get involved in research. After all, Chemistry is a science where new knowledge is generated in the laboratory, not in the classroom. Research projects give students the opportunity to experience up-to-date research equipment and techniques, and the opportunity to apply what they have learned in class to authentic situations. Many undergraduates become co-authors on publications in the chemistry research literature and have opportunities to present their work at professional conferences around the world. Participation in undergraduate research also gives you marketable transferrable skills that become crucial when applying to graduate programs, industrial jobs, and/or professional schools.

There are many ways to get involved in research; you may do research for course credit, pay, or as a volunteer. Regardless, several blocks of time (at least 4-5 hours a piece) are usually required each week to work on your research project.

Undergraduate research in Chemistry takes the form of an apprenticeship. That is, you work with an expert researcher (a faculty member) and his/her research group (a collection of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and/or other undergraduates) on a project that you and the faculty member share an interest in. This apprenticeship will build your capacity and skill for doing research so that, after some initial success, you will be permitted a bit more flexibility and independence. You eventually work up to participating in all aspects of the research enterprise—designing work, carrying it out, and presenting it in various Departmental and University courses and forums.

The Earlier the Better! We encourage Chemistry majors to start thinking about research during their first year on campus in hopes that many will get involved during the second year. If you start early in your academic career, you will have more chances to explore different research possibilities, more opportunities to develop your scientific knowledge and laboratory skills, more opportunities to earn competitive research fellowships, awards, and experiences, and more experiences to prepare you for your future career.

Research for Course Credit

All students are encouraged to take advantage of the research experience courses administered by UNH’s Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. Students enrolled in these courses are eligible for up to $200 in funding (per semester) to underwrite research expenses such as chemicals, instrument time, etc. INCO 590 is particularly well suited to a student’s first research experience.

INCO 590: Student Research Experience (1-4 credits). An entry-level apprenticeship experience, to assist students in developing research skills and to prepare them for more advanced research. 1 credit equates to a commitment of ~3 hours per week.

INCO 790: Advanced Research Experience (1-4 credits). An advanced-level experience, for students who are conducting more advanced research and applying research skills they already have developed. 1 credit equates to a commitment of ~3 hours per week.

To enroll for INCO 590/790, you must first find a research mentor who will sponsor you in her/his lab for the semester. Both the professor and student should agree on a research plan, determine the number of credits to be earned, and complete a student-faculty contract and budget form. Finally, the student will submit these items to the Hamel Center in Nesmith Hall 309.

Students can also use CHEM 696: Independent Study (1-4 credits) as a mechanism for research credit. However, this is typically reserved for students who must earn Chemistry credits to fulfill requirements for the Chemistry major (e.g. as an Advanced Chemistry Elective for B.A. students).

Senior Thesis

Senior chemistry majors are encouraged to complete senior thesis research. (Note: this is a requirement for the B.S.Chem. degree; B.A. majors are strongly encouraged.) Although it is not required, it is often advantageous for students to have completed a few semesters of research experience (INCO 590/790) before engaging in senior thesis research; doing so ensures familiarity with the research project as well as the research laboratory, its members, and standard procedures.

CHEM 799: Senior Thesis (4 credits/semester, 2 semesters). Students enroll in 2 sequential semesters of CHEM 799, for a total of 8 credits. This is recognized as a writing intensive course.

To enroll in CHEM 799, you must first find a research mentor who will sponsor you in his/her lab for the academic year. Both the professor and student should agree on a research plan. Students should then see Ms. Cindi Rohwer in Parsons W115, who will provide registration information.

Undergraduates presenting research in poster sessions and at the Undergraduate Research Conference

Research Awards, Fellowships, and Programs

There are plenty of opportunities to earn money for doing research during the academic year and in the summer. Two of these are offered by UNH’s Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research, the Undergraduate Research Award and the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship.

Undergraduate Research Awards (URAs)

These are awarded competitively to students who wish to conduct research during the academic year (including January term), or in the summer. The awards range up to $1000 stipend per project, with an additional $600 available for research expenses. Applications are due in early October for the following January/Spring and early March for the following summer/Fall.

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURFs)

These are awarded competitively to students who wish to conduct summer research on campus for 10 weeks. The program offers a $3500 stipend as well as up to $600 to support research expenses. Applications are due at the beginning of March for the following summer.

Due to the generosity of our alumni, the Chemistry Department provides various awards and fellowships to undergraduates who wish to pursue research opportunities. These include:

The Daggett Award

The Dennis Chasteen Undergraduate Research Fellowship

The David W. and Marion S. Ellis Fund

To be considered for a Chemistry Department Research Award or Fellowship, please consult with your faculty research mentor or Ms. Cindi Rohwer in Parsons W115.

The Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS) also supports undergraduate summer research with competitive Norris-Richards Undergraduate Student Research Scholarships. Sophomore and junior chemistry majors are eligible to apply for this award annually. An award of $3000 is provided for the student for a minimum commitment of ten weeks of full-time research work; an additional $500 can be spent on supplies, travel, and other items relevant to the student project.

There are also occasional opportunities for experienced undergraduate researchers to earn money by performing research associated with faculty members’ research grants. Please consult with your faculty research mentor for information on such opportunities.

Research Opportunities Away from UNH

There are many opportunities for students to pursue research away from the UNH campus. For example, experienced undergraduate researchers will be competitive for spots at National Science Foundation-funded summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). REUs occur all over the United States and each site has a different research focus. For example, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina is the site for Chemistry and Applications of Smart Molecules and Materials while Princeton University is the site for Molecular Biophysics.

The Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research also provides two opportunities for funding to conduct research outside the United States: the International Research Opportunities Program (IROP) and the SURF Abroad Program.

Sometimes, research opportunities away from UNH (either domestic or international) are far less formal than the programs listed above. The UNH Chemistry faculty have collaborators and contacts at universities and state/industrial labs all over the globe who could potentially sponsor you for a research experience or internship. Talk to your academic adviser or research mentor to see what opportunities might be available.


The hardest part of getting involved in research is finding a research mentor. You may be lucky and find a research mentor immediately. Most often, however, you will need to contact several people multiple times before finding a research lab that is taking undergraduate students. Don’t get discouraged though—if you are having a hard time finding an advisor, come talk to the chemistry undergraduate program coordinator (Prof. Sam Pazicni, email: sam.pazicni@unh.edu, office: Parsons Hall W110). Just remember, although getting involved in research can be the most valuable experience in your scientific career, it also takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and commitment.

1. Decide what interests you.

  • Think back to the chemistry topics or lab experiments that you particularly enjoyed. Was the content of the class/lab more biological, inorganic, chemistry education, analytical, organic, materials, physical, theoretical or environmental focused?
  • Search around to learn about what other people are researching. Look online or look specifically at the research being conducted in the Chemistry Department.
  • Attending departmental seminars (Tuesdays at 11:10 am in Parsons N104) and lunch talks can also help you to figure out what you might like to do.
  • Don’t forget to also use your fellow classmates, your TAs, and your professors as resources.

2. Identify potential faculty that you want to work with.

  • look at faculty members’ research websites and publications
  • take advantage of office hours
  • talk to your fellow classmates, your TAs and your professors
  • talk with the undergraduate program coordinator (Prof. Pazicni)

After deciding what type of chemistry interests you, go to the UNH Chemistry website and identify a few professors who are doing projects you would like to work on. Best advice is to stay flexible—professors sometimes aren’t able to take research students due to insufficient funding, limited lab space, limited personnel, etc. Don’t take this rejection personally; just move on to your next choice.

3. Contact potential faculty.

Write a compelling, concise email.

Note: if you write an email, do not write a generic email saying, “Hi! My name is ____ and I’m interested in doing research with you. When can I start?” You might not get a response! You must put some time into this if you are serious about doing research. You can think of this process as being very similar to finding a job. It is a good idea to have a resume ready in case you are asked for it, and you must always be on your best behavior (make sure you don’t have spelling errors in your emails, etc.).

Hints for writing a good email:

  • Introduce yourself: “Hi, My name is _________.”
  • State your purpose: “I am planning to go to grad school in chemistry and am looking to gain some research experience in a lab before I apply.” OR “I’m thinking about becoming a chemistry major and would really like to get involved with research in the department.”
  • Give some background: “I’m a sophomore chemistry major with an overall GPA of 3.4, and a chemistry GPA of 3.8. I have taken 403/404 and am currently enrolled in 517/518 and 547/549.”
  • Talk about your interests: “I’ve always been interested in polymers and would really like to understand their environmental impact.”
  • List a specific project: “I saw on your website that you were conducting research with biodegradable co-polymers and would love to learn more about this project.”
  • Ask if they are taking students: “Thus, I was wondering if you are taking any undergraduate researchers this semester.”
  • Ask to set-up an appointment: “If so, may I set-up an appointment to further discuss your research and this opportunity?”
  • Make sure to say thank you: “Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing back from you.”

4. Wait.

Professors are very busy. If you don’t hear anything back in a week, try emailing again. If you still don’t hear back, stop by their office and ask if you can set up a meeting to discuss their research. Remember that when you communicate with professors, you must be respectful and prepared. Treat it like a job interview—make sure you do your homework before your meeting (you should know what type of research they do before talking to them, you should have an idea of what type of project you would like to work on, etc.).

Department of Chemistry, University of New Hampshire

23 Academic Way, Durham NH 03824

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