• Research Opportunities

Start your undergraduate research

Undergraduate research is open to every undergraduate in any discipline.

But you can do so much more than conduct research. That's just the starting point for experiences that can connect you to students and faculty around the University, country and world. 

  • Attend or present at the Undergraduate Research and Arts Expo
  • Apply for an Undergraduate Research Grant
  • Publish findings in the Northwestern Undergraduate Research Journal
  • Submit your work to the Undergraduate Awards , an international pan-discipline awards program
  • Contact the Office of Fellowships to see if you qualify for a fellowship


What direction will your research take you?

As an undergraduate at Northwestern, not only do you have the option to engage in scholarly research, regardless of your school, but your options for undergraduate research are almost endless. Here’s where it’s taken six of our undergraduates.

Spencer Park

I’m working on a research project to develop the chemical vapor deposition of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides for applications in nanoscale photonics and solid-state devices.”

Spencer Park McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science Dual-Degree Program: Trumpet Performance & Materials Science and Engineering; Business Institutions Program minor

I recently had an Undergraduate Research Grant to research indigenous language maintenance within the Lepcha community of India. My research advisor is helping me put my research into the bigger picture of language revitalization work.”

Steffi Brock-Wilson Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Economics major; Certificate in Civic Engagement

Stephanie Wilson

I’m working in a lab with Dr. Beverly Wright. I am being considered a peer among faculty members. It's an amazing opportunity to get started on research very early in my undergraduate experience.”

Simran Chadha School of Communication Communication Sciences and Disorders major; Global Health and/or Political Science minor

I worked with a professor to research and edit a textbook on social media. Also, I spent several quarters working with the professor who founded “The Youth Project,” a Medill-run publication centered on issues of social justice.”

Carter Sherman Medill School of Journalism Journalism and International Studies double major

Carter Sherman

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Offering an integrated portfolio of expert services and resources, the Office for Research (OR) partners with stakeholders across the University to provide critical strategic and operational support to Northwestern’s research community. From research safety and compliance to innovation, translation and sponsored funding, the Office is a catalyst for research excellence. OR also oversees Northwestern’s core facilities—shared laboratory spaces with cutting-edge instrumentation and PhD-level staff.

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Research News

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Translational Research

From idea to commercialization.

Northwestern features a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, both for faculty and students. Much of the infrastructure and many of the resources for our success in this arena involve INVO, the University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office. INVO manages our researchers’ intellectual property and helps faculty turn their ideas into companies. Among the assets INVO oversees is the Querrey InQbation Lab, an on-campus technology accelerator designed to turbocharge innovation.


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Undergraduate Research

At northwestern, student research starts on day 1..

The Office of Undergraduate Research awards funding to hundreds of students each year; a majority of these students are engaged in independent research and creative projects.

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Innovative thinking across every discipline and in every program.

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The Undergraduate Research Assistant Program funds inexperienced students to work with faculty who are in need of assistance on their own research projects. In doing so, students who do not have sufficient research experience to design and carry out their own independent project gain first-hand mentored knowledge of research practices in their discipline, while faculty who would not otherwise be able to hire Research Assistants (RAs) get help with their own projects. Unlike our other grant programs, a URAP application has to be initiated by a faculty member. Faculty can apply with a particular student(s) in mind, or the Office of Undergraduate Research can assist in finding a student for them by running a search. If you are interested, keep reading to learn how you can get hired by this program! Students in the program are paid $16.00/hour.

If you are a potential faculty mentor interested in applying to URAP, please visit our URAP for Faculty page! The below information is geared toward students.  


  • The extent to which the mentee will have opportunities to frequently engage with the faculty mentor and receive feedback on their work.
  • The extent to which it is clear what the student will be doing on a day-to-day basis and how they will be trained to do these tasks.
  • The clarity on the skills the mentee will develop through this opportunity and how these skills will prepare the student for more independent work in the field.
  • Whether the application is consistent with URAP’s goals of providing opportunities for novice students – not students who already have related professional or academic research experiences.
  • The alignment between the student’s interests/goals and the mentor’s work, and how this opportunity will create mutual benefit.

If the review committee needs to make decisions within a limited budget, secondary budget priorities will be strong applications from traditionally underfunded fields (or those who made an argument towards the necessity of funding) or residential college faculty pairings.

Since faculty can either apply with a pre-selected student OR run a job search, this means there are two different deadlines, pending which pathway you take.


2023-24 Academic Year URAP Faculty Deadline: Monday,  October 9, 2023

Students applying as the pre-selected student must submit PDFs of their resume and cover letter within 24 hours of the faculty deadline listed above.


2023-24 Academic Year URAP Student Search application period: Monday, October 30 – Sunday, November 12, 2023.


Student mentee eligibility.

Overall, this program is meant for student mentees with no prior research experience, or no prior experience in the proposed methodologies. If you are not sure of your eligibility on the basis of prior research, please consult this  Student Eligibility Guide .  Typically, the faculty review committee is looking for students to make major shifts across fields (ie moving from humanities to natural sciences etc); otherwise the argument needs to be very clearly framed about how the student is still considered new to research and why they are not yet ready to pursue something more independent.

Eligible Applicants:

  • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are new to research.
  • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are interested in conducting research in a new field that is significantly different than their previous research.
  • Under applicable policy, the University cannot hire someone who is outside of the United States. The hired student must reside on US soil at time of hire and throughout the duration of the grant period.
  • For international students: all URAP students must have a Social Security Number (SSN) before they are able to begin working/earning money. If the student does not already have a SSN, the Office of Undergraduate Research can write a job offer letter for the student. SSN-related delays may impact the student’s ability to complete work during the grant period. Please talk with us prior to applying so you have a sense of timeline and process required and can make informed financial decisions!
  • Faculty may choose to hire two students, and each student has the potential to earn the full award. The award decision is made based on the whole application, so BOTH students must be eligible for the grant to be considered.

Ineligible Applicants:

  • Students who are not residing on US soil during the grant period.
  • Seniors graduating early cannot be selected for Academic Year URAP positions (given that most students do not begin working until Winter, and the student needs to be an active undergraduate student to be eligible).
  • Undergraduate Northwestern students who have already held a URAP position.
  • Undergraduate Northwestern students who are prepared to conduct independent research (you should apply for our independent research grants instead!).
  • URAP awardees may NOT simultaneously hold an independent grant during their award tenure.

Faculty Mentor Eligibility

  • Full-time Northwestern University teaching faculty
  • Non-tenure track faculty and lecturers who are teaching this year  are  eligible, and strongly encouraged to apply as long as they will be at Northwestern the following year.
  • Teaching postdocs  are  eligible, and strongly encouraged to apply. Post-docs on two year fellowships can only apply for a Summer or AY URAP in their first year.

Ineligible Applicants: URAP fosters long-term mentoring relationships between faculty and students; therefore, faculty are only eligible to apply if they will still be on their campus the academic year after they hold a URAP.

  • Emeritus faculty, faculty retiring or leaving Northwestern the following academic year, single year visiting faculty, and other teaching faculty who will not be at Northwestern next academic year  are not eligible to apply.
  • Graduate students and non-teaching post-docs  are not  eligible to apply.

Application Process

Finding a faculty mentor.

Faculty mentors initiate the main application. They will describe the student role and tasks, how you will be trained, and their mentorship plan. We encourage students to identify faculty to apply on their behalf (it’s your best chance of success!). A great way to begin this process is to work through Getting Started , and attend a Finding a Faculty/Lab Workshop .

If you are able to find a faculty mentor to apply on your behalf, it often works well to meet and discuss the project and your role before the faculty mentor applies. You can take notes during your meeting in this application  Word Template,  and send it to the faculty mentor afterwards as a way of jump starting their application. The information from meeting will also help you be specific in your cover letter about the aspects of the job that you are excited about and what you hope to gain from this experience. 

If you are not able to identify a faculty member to apply on your behalf in advance of the deadline, that’s okay! Sign up for our e-Newsletter to be the first to know when the open job searches go live! You are welcome to apply to more than one open job, but you must apply separately to EACH position, and we expect you to tailor your cover letter each time. The potential drawbacks to the open job search are that 1) there is no guarantee there will be a faculty mentor in your field running a job search, and 2) you will be competing against other students applying to the same position, so it is more competitive. That being said, it’s always worth a shot to apply! If you are not selected, there are still many other ways to get involved in research. Meeting with an advisor is the best way to come up with a game plan that works for you and your goals!

Drafting Your Cover Letter

You will need a cover letter to apply, regardless of whether you apply as a pre-selected student, or you apply to an open job search position.


You are applying for a position that is competitive – take the time to write a strong application. If you have not written a job application before we recommend you review the resources provided by Career Advancement before starting. The following tips should serve as a baseline; students can receive additional advising on this process from Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA), and they can schedule an appointment through  Handshake . There are lots of helpful examples and resources on the NCA website, including their Career Guide   with sample cover letters and their page specific to  Cover Letter Writing .


  • Cover letter is maximum of 1 page.
  • Save document as a PDFs prior to submission.
  • Minimum 11 point font.


  • FOR PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS: Address the cover letter to the faculty mentor, but your target audience is the faculty review committee. Your goal is to demonstrate alignment with the faculty mentor’s application. You want the review committee to know how you and the faculty mentor came to work together, what skills you are excited about developing, and how you hope to benefit from the URAP experience, if selected. An easy way to begin this cover letter is to use content from the first e-mail you likely sent the faculty mentor (back when you were looking to start a conversation about their research), and then add in content from conversations you have since had with the faculty mentor about the particulars of the URAP position.
  • FOR OPEN JOB SEARCH STUDENTS: Address the cover letter to the faculty mentor, being careful to assure that you submit the right cover letter if you apply to more than one open position. Your cover letter is your chance to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Try to express your passion and interests for the position, and explain why their position in particular stood out to you.
  • Introduce yourself so they know who is applying . In the first paragraph, it is a good idea to let the faculty mentor a) who you are, your year, and potential major or field of interest, and b) share how you found out about the job opening (ie did their colleague recommend it to you? Listserv? Course you are talking? Office of Undergraduate Research staff member?) Additionally, if you have a residential college affiliation (ie Willard, Shepard, etc) please mention this as well.
  • Tailor your application to the job you are applying for . A potential employer wants to know why you are interested in this specific position, and to get an idea of the skills, qualities, and experiences you would bring to it. They are less interested in generic discussion of your personal history, or experiences that have no bearing on the job they want done. So refer to specific reasons why you are interested in  this  position, and give reasons (supported with evidence – see below) for why you are the best candidate for  this job. You will not likely be a competitive candidate if you cannot articulate why a specific job is a good match for you, and what you hope to get out of it. That is, you cover letter should clearly articulate how your interests align with the faculty mentor’s and how this opportunity would benefit you academically and professionally.
  • Provide evidence for your statements . It’s not enough to say “I am passionate about history/genetics/psychology/etc.” Why should the person reviewing your application take your word for it? And how does your claim to be passionate distinguish you from all the other applicants claiming exactly the same thing?  Demonstrate  your interest through concrete examples of things you have already done. E.g., what coursework have you taken? Do you have relevant life experiences through clubs, activism, or personal circumstance? What prior experiences show that you had some interest in this topic before you read the job ad?
  • Your application must be professional.  A potential employer is interested in your professional experiences and academic goals, not your hobbies and childhood memories. When you describe your background and interest in the field, remember that this is a job application and not a dating profile.
  • Give your potential employer enough information to make a decision .   If you only provide generic information and do not give much detail on yourself, how can a potential employer evaluate your interest in, and suitability for, the job?
  • Copy edit your application before you send it . This should be obvious…you WILL be judged if there are typos or spelling errors. Don’t let silly mistakes hold back your application. If you are applying to more than one position, log back into the system after you apply and confirm that you uploaded the right resume and the right cover letter for each position. If a faculty member receives an application addressed to a different mentor, they likely won’t take your application seriously.

Click here to download an Example Cover Letter.

Drafting Your Resume

 You will need a resume to apply, regardless of whether you apply as a pre-selected student, or you apply to an open job search position.


You are applying for a position that is competitive – take the time to write a strong application. If you have not written a resume before we recommend you review the resources provided by Career Advancement before starting. The following tips should serve as a baseline; students can receive additional advising on this process from Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA), and they can schedule an appointment through  Handshake . There are lots of helpful examples and resources on the NCA website, including their Career Guide   with sample cover letters and their page specific to Resume Writing .

  • Resume is maximum of 1 page.
  • Save document as a PDF prior to submission.


  • Contact information
  • Relevant Experience (does not have to be formal job experience)
  • Start bullet points with action verbs. NCA has a list of action verbs to help you get started. Where possible, try to quantify your experience, or frame it in a way that shows how it is relevant to the position to which you are applying. 
  • Place the most important information first and group related experiences together.  Use section categories to highlight your experiences most relevant to the job first. Within each category, items will be listed chronologically. 
  • Include relevant non-work experiences.  Think broadly about what you might include; any activity you do consistently that has an output you can point to can work! For this particular resume, you might include relevant coursework to demonstrate interest in a topic area.

Click here to download an Example Resume.

Submitting Student Application Materials

FOR PRE-SELECTED STUDENTS: your faculty mentor will include your netID when they submit the application. This will trigger an email to you, asking you to upload a PDF of your resume and cover letter to complete the application in the portal ( https://soap.northwestern.edu ). You will see the pending application when you login. You must upload your materials within 24 hours of the faculty application deadline for the application to be considered.

FOR OPEN JOB SEARCH STUDENTS: After log-in, you’ll see a grid with any applications you have previously submitted.  If you have never used this system, it will be empty. On the top menu, click the button that says “Discover Opportunities and Apply.” Navigate to the section that says “Undergraduate Research Office.” Click the “View All” button to find all of the open grants and URAP positions. Scroll through the opportunity listings until you find the name of the faculty mentor and title of the opportunity for which you’d like to apply.

Apply through this Application Portal.

  • Log in with your NetID and password.
  • Enter the required information, and upload PDFs of your resume and cover letter. 

Final Submission When you submit the application, you will get one of two system responses:

  • Option 1: Error message that there were some problems with your application. The errors will be highlighted in red; please review and correct them before you resubmit.
  • Option 2: If there are no errors, you will be sent to a survey site. Doing the survey is a requirement to complete the application . It is a short survey that helps us continue advocating for funding and make improvements to the process.

You will receive an automatically generated confirmation email within 15 minutes of your successful submission.

Application Evaluation

  • There is a clear benefit to both the faculty and the student. The student is actively engaged in the research rather than doing mundane tasks like data entry or transcribing.
  • The student does not have prior research experience, or the student will clearly be transitioning into a new field with significantly different methodologies than their prior experience.
  • The application outlines a clear and detailed mentoring plan, discussing how the faculty mentor will help the student develop their research skills.
  • The faculty mentor would not otherwise be able to hire an RA because the field is traditionally underfunded and/or undergraduates are not normally included in the research process: arts, humanities, and non-lab/field-based social sciences.
  • For faculty in the natural sciences, engineering, medical school, or lab/field-based social sciences, the application makes a detailed and compelling case for why no other funding is available to support RAs. If the faculty has hired undergraduate RAs before, the application explains why this particular student cannot be hired from the same funding source.
  • The experience for the student goes beyond the regular curriculum in the discipline.

URAP and Work-Study

You do not need to be work-study eligible in order to receive URAP funding.

If a URAP student is work-study eligible (as denoted in their financial aid award letter accessible through CAESAR), then their URAP position will be converted to work-study. 

Here is an overview of how that will work: work-study is a federal need-based financial aid program. At Northwestern, it is set up such that the government pays for 75% of the student’s hourly wage, and the department that hires the student pays the other 25%. Since the Office of Undergraduate Research is the hiring department for URAP jobs, we will cover the 25%, and there is no additional cost to the faculty mentor.

Of note, work-study allotments are typically more than the URAP award allotment, which means the student may: 1) hold more than one work-study job (and it is the mentee’s job to communicate this to the mentor if this is true), and/or 2) be eligible to earn additional URAP hours given their work-study allotment. The average work-study allotment is $3,600 which is 225 possible URAP hours. Students are often eager to maximize their work-study income. Consequently, prior to the grant beginning, the student mentee and faculty mentor should have an honest conversation about the student’s goals and commitments regarding work-study position(s), and if the URAP job is a viable way for the student to earn additional hours. For example, if the faculty mentor only has about 100 hours of work (ie the initial URAP amount of $1,600 divided by $16.00/hr), the student can only earn a fraction of the $3,600 allotment, the student may pursue a second work-study job since many students financially depend on being able to earn the full allotment. Conversely, if the faculty mentor hopes to hire the student for 225 hours, but the student already has another work-study job with which they plan on splitting their time, it is important for the faculty member to know about realistic time expectations for their URAP research tasks. The federal work-study program caps the number of hours worked per week at 20 hours.

Can I get help writing my resume and cover letter?

Certainly! Since the required student application components are a resume and cover letter, your best resource is Northwestern Career Advancement . You can schedule an appointment with an advisor via Handshake . If you’re looking to speak to someone quickly, look into NCA LiveChat or NCA Express Advising options.

We are also happy to provide advising support through the Office of Undergraduate Research. Schedule an advising appointment with an advisor.

What if I do not currently have a faculty mentor in mind?

Can i apply to more than one open position, i am in a lab-based field. can i still ask a faculty mentor to apply.

  • New junior faculty who have not yet applied for major grants and who need RA help while they are setting up their first lab.
  • Faculty who are initiating small, unfunded pilot projects that will later form the basis of a new NSF/NIH application.
  • Faculty who are funded by grants that explicitly prohibit hiring of undergraduates (please be specific about funding source).

If the faculty mentor does have potential funding to hire you, we expect them to do so such that our office can focus on creating as many opportunities for students as possible.   There are often a number of resources in these disciplines wherein faculty can fund  or subsidize undergraduates.

When can I begin working? How many hours can I complete?

First and foremost, you have to complete all the hiring paperwork before you can begin working. We have a separate page with instructions for award winners .

Academic Year URAP

  • Students can begin working any time after November 1st IF they have submitted the appropriate payroll paperwork AND the position is visible in Workforce.
  • Students can work more heavily in one quarter than another, pending their course load and agreement with the faculty sponsor.
  • Students can work over breaks, if agreed upon with faculty sponsor.  Work cannot be conducted during exam periods.
  • Students are paid $16.00/hour and can earn up to $1,600 (or 100 hours) over the grant period. Students who are eligible and choose to convert their RA position to work-study can earn more depending on their individual work-study allotment.
  • If they choose to space out the 100 hours, students often work 5-8 hours a week (see funding information above).
  • Students CANNOT work more than 40 hrs/week; whether working for this job alone or in combination with another part-time campus job.
  • Students must complete & log all hours by the last payroll deadline before Spring Exams begin. Please check your award email for specific dates. Hours must be logged AND annotated in Workforce.

How do I get paid?

First and foremost, you must complete all steps in the hiring payroll process before you can begin working. We have a separate page with information to Award Winners .

The Office of Undergraduate Research hires students as Temp Employees, and students are paid an hourly wage of $16.00/hr. Students enter their hours in Workforce to get paid, and the faculty supervisor (or someone the faculty mentor designates) approves hours in Workforce as primary supervisor. Students cannot begin working until their timecard is visible in Workforce; typically the job is visible about a week after all payroll paperwork is submitted. Additional processes to complete payroll paperwork (like applying and receiving a social security number) may delay the potential start date. Full details on your award paperwork, payroll paperwork, and using Workforce to log/approve hours will be provided in your award emails; we also require all student awardees to participate in a mandatory on-boarding workshop.

I was selected as a URAP mentee! What do I do next?

When you are formally selected, you should receive an award email with instructions on what to do next. You will also fill out a form to generate custom payroll instructions within the application system. You can refer to this webpage for links to payroll forms and detailed instructions on how to complete them. In general you will need to:

  • Log back into the application system and formally accept the award.
  • Submit a personal data form.
  • Complete tax paperwork and I9 verification if you are not already in the Payroll system.
  • Attend a mandatory URAP onboarding workshop.
  • Begin working ONLY after the position is formally created through HR and you can see a place to enter hours in Workforce.

I need help with the Workforce timekeeping system.

We will take care of hiring you, and we provide an on-boarding workshop to guide you through how to use the Workforce system. Your faculty mentor or someone they designate will approve your hours every two weeks. If your faculty mentor knows in advance that they will be unable to approve your hours for an upcoming deadline, they may contact the URAP administrator to request backup approval on their behalf.

All other questions are best asked of the Workforce help desk, as we are not experts in how this system works.

  • Information and Links for the Workforce Timekeeping System
  • Phone: 847-491-4700
  • Email: [email protected]

Can I use this position to earn work-study money? What about academic credit?

If you are awarded work-study as part of your financial aid package, your URAP position will come from your work-study allotment. This option is only possible during the academic year.

HOWEVER, the average work-study allotment is between $3,000 and $4,000, which comes to about 200-260 hours of work (instead of the original AYURAP 100 hours). Not all faculty mentors may be able to provide that much work. Therefore, the faculty must have additional hours for you to complete or you may wish to find a different job to earn your full allotment.

You cannot simultaneously be paid for your work while earning academic credit, so if you prefer to receive academic credit, you should apply for a 398/399 independent study. Enrollment in an independent student makes you eligible to apply for an  Academic Year Undergraduate Research Grant , which provides $1,000 towards research related expenses.

I'm a research assistant, but I'm falling behind in my work and I'm freaking out. What do I do?

Quick links.

  • Advising Request
  • E-Newsletter Sign-up
  • Workshops & Info Sessions


  1. Student Research: Baker Program in Undergraduate Research

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  2. Summer Undergraduate Research Assistants Program: Institute for Policy

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  5. Austin awarded Northwestern Summer Undergraduate Research Grant

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  1. Student's Research 1

  2. The 4th Undergraduate Research Forum

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  4. Welcome to the Querrey InQbation Lab with Lisa Dhar

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