Research is the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions [Oxford English Dictionary]. In Chemistry, that typically means doing experiments or calculations to investigate chemical phenomena. The American Chemical Society (ACS) states that:
“Undergraduate research allows students to integrate and reinforce chemistry knowledge from their formal coursework, develop their scientific and professional skills, and create new scientific knowledge.”
“Conducting undergraduate research with a faculty advisor allows the student to draw on faculty expertise and encourages a student-faculty mentor relationship.”
“A student using research to meet the ACS certification requirements must prepare
a well-written, comprehensive, and well-documented research report, including safety
considerations where appropriate.”
Jarret Curtis, Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher in Chemistry 2012, currently at the University of South Alabama Medical School. In this photo, Jarret is performing chromatography on an amino acid derivative that just happened to run purple and gold!
For an excellent description of the nature of research, the benefits and the challenges, check out the ACS website.
Here are some quotes from former LSU Chemistry majors on the subject of research. To read more about these people and how their careers developed after leaving LSU, visit our undergraduate spotlight.
- “Take advantage of opportunities to do research and work in the lab. Seeing your class work put in action is a great experience and really helps you determine the areas of chemistry that you are most interested in.” - Damon Bilodeaux, PhD, Principal Research Chemistry, Eastman Chemical Co., Longview, TX
- “… get involved with research early. You can go to the chemistry faculty page and read about the different projects. If one seems interesting to you, then don’t hesitate to contact that professor to see if you can start doing working with him/her. Research is definitely one of the things that I miss the most about my time as an undergraduate at LSU.” -Mary Liu, 3rd year pharmacy student
- "The best thing I did as a student researcher was completing an undergraduate research thesis, which allowed me to graduate with Honors and more importantly gave me academic writing experience that has been important in my career. Participating in the weekly lab group meetings also helped me develop skills needed to communicate research objectives and findings to others". -Liz Lissy, historian and preservationist, Keystone Preservation Group, Pennsylvania
At LSU, most tenure-track faculty have some undergraduates as part of their research group. You will likely get paired up with a graduate student or postdoctoral mentor with whom you will work closely on a weekly basis.
Start early! Plan ahead, because professors have limited space and resources and will not necessarily be able to take you on at your convenience. Being part of a research group is fun and gives you a network of more experienced people to talk to about classes and career prospects. You may not be ready, or have the time to commit to research for credit yet, but hanging out will give you a feeling for the lab culture and kind of research that goes on. While one semester of research is required for most ACS-certified concentrations of Chemistry, that barely scratches the surface. A longer-term commitment will enable you to learn more and perhaps earn you the opportunity to attend a conference or be a co-author on a journal article.
How to Choose a Research Area
- Here are some questions you might ask yourself
- What classes have I really enjoyed that I have a natural flare for? [organic, physical, analytical ….]
- Are you very mathematical? [analytical, physical, computational]
- Do you like cooking? [synthesis]
- What kind of career appeals to you after graduation and what kind of research might be most relevant? [grad school, analytical chemist in industry, teacher … check out former LSU chemistry majors for some inspiration)
- Then check out our faculty web pages to see what they do. Coming soon you search by traditional disciplines [organic, analytical, physical, inorganic … like the classes you have been taught] or by research themes [energy, materials, biological, environmental, spectroscopy etc.]
- Send your first choice research advisor an email explaining why your find their work interesting. Explain what stage you are at in your degree and ask if they potentially have any openings in their lab. Ask if you can make an appointment to talk about the possibilities.
- If your first choice doesn’t pan out … try a couple more professors. Ask Dr Taylor for help and advice (email@example.com)
Alex Ngyuen presenting a poster that won an award at the 2nd Annual LSU Triple EX Symposium for Undergraduate Research in Fall 2010. Alex went on to complete a PhD with Drs Vicente and Smith at LSU.
Research for Credit
Chem2900: students can register for CHEM 2900 any time after their freshmen year. This is a pass/fail course and can be taken for 1-2 hours of credit.
Chem3900: students can be registered for Chem3900 once they have passed Chem3491 (Physical Chemistry I). You can be registered for Chem3900 for additional semesters and receive credit for up to 6 credit hours. There is also a limit of 8 credit hours in the combination of Chem2900 and Chem3900.
Chem3900 requires the original research report required for ACS certification. We also have a requirement for a mid-semester oral presentation.
Chem3900 can be taken for 1, 2 or 3 hours of credit per semester. Each credit hour requires a minimum of 3 hours of work per week on your project.
Two credit hours of Chem3900 are required for Chemistry majors in the following concentrations: Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, Environmental Chemistry, Polymers, Materials and Chemistry and a Second Discipline.
Three credit hours of Chem3900 are required for Chemistry majors in the Chemical Physics concentration.
Students in the Pre-Professional Chemistry or Secondary Education concentrations are not required to take Chem3900. They are still welcome, and indeed encouraged, to pursue a research experience.
Students must obtain the Chem2900 or Chem3900 Registration Form from the Undergraduate Chemistry Office (109 Choppin Hall). After a research professor agrees to allow a student to work in their research lab and signs the form, the student returns to the form to the Undergraduate Chemistry Office and is added to the course. These “research for credit” classes cannot be added to a student’s schedule using the myLSU scheduler; this can only be done by staff in the Undergraduate Chemistry Office.
Honors Thesis in Chemistry
You must be a member of the Honors College. This requires 3 semesters of Chem3900 and the writing and defense of a thesis. Further information can be found in the “Thesis Handbook & Guide to Upper Division Honors Distinction:”