Frequently Asked Questions about Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities
How does the RSCA work?
The RSCA is unlike formal programs (ex, the Honors Program) or societies (ex, SMP or honors societies in your major). Those have eligibility criteria and applications, and they specialize in grouping like-minded students into communities that then share experiences together.
The RSCA is different. We are not a formal group with eligibility criteria or an enrollment process. We are open to all students and faculty across the campus.
Our aim is to encourage students and faculty to partner together on projects outside the classroom.
The first step is for students and faculty to commit to developing a project on their shared interests. Once that’s done, the RSCA can support your efforts with funding for the project’s expenses, opportunities to present your work, and so on.
Which students do collaborative projects with faculty?
Yes. All academic disciplines have their own form of scholarship – whether in the laboratory, library, museum, field site, recording studios, and so on. All students are encouraged to seek out an opportunity in their field. We are truly eager to support projects in all areas.
Most start in the Junior or Senior year, after they’ve progressed through several of the core courses in their major.
But some students do start sooner, even as early as their first year. This early experience gives them a good sense of whether they like this side of academia. Some stick with it for many semesters, cultivating numerous skills and eventually perhaps heading their own project or publishing their findings. Their cumulative experience heightens the many benefits of engaging in faculty-mentored work.
The RSCA also offers a special grant for “rising sophomores” to do a summer project before their sophomore year. For more details about this award, see the SURE Grant page.
How do students join faculty mentors on projects?
The best way is to speak with professors about their research / creative work and ask how students can become involved in it. Understand that some professors might not have active projects, or they might not have space on their teams; in those cases, try again with another professor.
Some departments offer courses that provide collaborative research opportunities with faculty during the semester. Ask an instructor or your advisor if that is true for your department and, if so, how to enroll in that course.
Look at faculty webpages to learn about their scholarly interests and see which ones might interest you. Then contact them to ask if they might describe their research and any opportunities available for students. If reaching out by email, be sure to write in a formal and professional manner.
Students can collaborate with any faculty mentor. But most of the RSCA's grants and scholarships are limited to those working with full-time faculty (lecturers and professors). Students can view their major’s departmental website to identify potential full-time faculty mentors.
If you already have a clear project in mind, go ahead and pitch it to a professor. Maybe one will be willing to mentor you despite it not being in their own area of interest.
Otherwise, we recommend that you put aside your current interests and focus more on the many other positives you can gain by working with them on their project: hands-on experience, a professor to lean on for professional mentorship, access to networks and opportunities, and so on. Those are sizable benefits.
Also, we have plenty of evidence that interests develop over time as you gain experience and knowledge with a topic. That is also true of doing research and creative activities: by diving into a project, gaining skill and confidence along the way, you will probably grow interested in the topic. Who knows, you might wind up loving it!
How is the student’s work on these projects compensated?
Yes. This is typically done as an Independent Study, a personally customized course in which you and the faculty mentor determine the number of credits (1-3), the requirements, and the activities to be completed. Additionally, some departments offer a specific course dedicated to undergraduate research experiences. Discuss both options with your faculty mentor.
No. Sometimes there are options to do the project voluntarily or for a stipend. Ask your faculty mentor about possibilities.
Who is eligible for RSCA funding (grants, scholarships, & travel award)?
Yes. This is required of all RSCA grants. The student-faculty partnership is central to the RSCA’s mission. Students deserve proper mentorship and the many benefits that come with it, and faculty deserve the opportunity to collaborate with eager students.
Yes. All undergraduate students are eligible for each grant. Honors students may find that the Student Opportunity Grant is especially useful because it has multiple application windows and can support a wide range of modest expenses.
The various RSCA funds are mostly restricted to undergraduate students.
The one exception is the Student Opportunity Grant. However, even that grant prioritizes undergraduates when its funds are limited.
This basic rule holds true for students enrolled in 4+1 graduate programs that combine undergraduate and graduate programs: only those still completing their undergraduate programs (i.e., in their first 4 years) can apply for all RSCA programs.
Outside of the RSCA, graduate students can also apply for project funding or conference travel support from the Graduate School, the Student Association, select scholarships, and their departments. Be sure to discuss possibilities with your faculty mentor or department’s chair.
Finally, our annual Student Research Symposium is open to all undergraduate and graduate students.