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Undergraduate Research & Scholarship

Exploring a topic

Finding a topic can be the hardest part of doing research. The topic has to be timely, of interest to the research community, include a high level of creativity or uniqueness, should lead to well defined set of results that a researcher can lay claim to, and not something that others have researched or may already be researching.

To find a topic that fits these requirements, it takes some brainstorming.

  • Be an active reader and listener. Don’t be passive in these activities; whenever reading a technical report, evaluate a piece of software, listen to a research talk – ask the questions and keep a written log of readings that is periodically looked at to see how some of the ideas begin to fit together:
    • What ideas from related fields might be brought o bear upon this subject?
    • What would be the reasonable next step to build upon this work?
    • How does it seem to relate to other work in the field?
    • What exactly was accomplished by this piece of work?
    • From where did the author seem to draw their ideas?
  • Be exposed to research / keep up with field
    • Set aside time every week for trying to generate research ideas – read latest research in premier journals in field and critique them; make weekly search to find preprints in field (read and critique); attend research seminar or colloquium (listen and critique)
    • Add these to the log and review every couple of months.
    • Talk to others – profs, researchers, etc. about the ideas or to generate collaborations. 
  • Continue to actively read and listen to generate possible project ideas and to keep up. New research is always being produced and want to be aware of them (especially if someone else has already published about what researcher is working on).

More help here:

Getting advice or researching with a faculty

Talk to your instructors, faculty advisors, graduate students, peers, a librarian, or the research office on campus; it can be very help to talk to someone if you are unsure of how or where to start on a research project.

If you are interested in researching with a faculty member, there are two ways to do so:

  1. If you're taking a course with a faculty member that you would like to work with, talk to them during their office hours.
  2. If you find someone through a search or on a departmental website, send the person an email to schedule an appointment with them.

Whichever method you choose, it is important to be prepared before contacting and meeting with faculty:

  • Always be professional and courteous
  • Read up on the faculty member. Know their background and research interests
  • Show up to appointments and commitments, and if you cannot, provide ample notice
  • Prepare specific questions or a general idea about your goals, ideas, and how much time you will be able to commit to research

During the meeting, make sure to take notes and write down any key pieces of advice.

Deciding and conducting research

Once you have gathered the necessary information, there are two approaches:

  1. Start your own project
  2. Join a faculty member or lab

Starting your own project requires a lot more initial work and planning before you can truly get started on conducting research. Don't skip this step! Some planning can include:

  • understanding the scope of the project
  • knowing the expectations of faculty mentor or advisor
  • knowledge of the literature (a.k.a. literature review)
  • knowledge of research methods, techniques, instruments, and labs skills
  • getting Institutional Review Board approval for human subject research

With all this information, you will be able to complete the project in a strategic and smooth manner and to have a successful project.

Additional resources for conducting research


Search the library catalog for books, including eBooks, about how to do research. Example of search keywords: "social sciences" research methodology.

Streaming Videos - Kanopy

Search a streaming video database called Kanopy for information on research methods. Search for "research methodology". (requires sign-in)


The Web Guide to Research for Undergraduates (WebGURU) is an interactive web-based tool intended to assist undergraduates navigate the hurdles of an undergraduate research experience.

Blackwell Publishing

Goes through the different steps for conducting a research project - from idea preliminaries to writing the report.

Start Your Research

Answering your research and SJSU Library questions.

Writing a Literature Review

Conducting a literature review is one of the first steps in conducting research. Includes step-by-step instructions on how to write one.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval for Human Subjects Research

For research that includes people, students may need to get approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). This needs to be happen before research begins. Find out more to see if you need to send in a proposal.