Undergraduate Research: Project Summary for a Research Experience

Prepare a project proposal for a research experience for undergrads at a university


Undergraduate research is a key part of any university’s mission, and many universities find it beneficial to create faculty and staff positions dedicated to the advancement of undergraduate research. These professionals may develop and present workshops to students, organize symposiums, design and manage programs to engage undergraduates in research, maintain a registry of undergraduates participating in research, or work with multi-disciplinary groups of faculty mentors, administrators and deans. Often they will mentor students and help with individual research efforts, or coordinate campus-wide support networks.

One of the important roles of an undergraduate research professional is to prepare project proposals in order to generate funding to provide research opportunities for undergraduates at the university. The focus of this job sim is to create a project summary for an undergraduate research experience at a university, as part of a proposal for a National Science Foundation (NSF) award.

The Process

The NSF offers several Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) Site awards on an annual basis, which allow universities to conduct innovative research programs for undergraduate students. According to the NSF REU Program Description, “Research experience is one of the most effective avenues for attracting students to and retaining them in science and engineering, and for preparing them for careers in these fields.”

An REU program can last anywhere from one summer semester up to 5 years and is designed around a central focus or theme. Successful REU proposals have clearly defined, high-impact objectives targeting under-represented student populations, and include a detailed timeline of activities designed to meet those objectives. Often undergraduate research professionals act as the Principal Investigator (PI) for these projects, and are responsible for all aspects of project design and implementation.

Click here for a full description of the NSF REU proposal

  1. Define the specific needs and capabilities of your university
  2. Identify and connect with potential mentors for the students (faculty)
  3. Design the timeline and activities for the students who will be participating in the program
  4. Define all logistic and administrative aspects of running the program

Write clearly, concisely and enthusiastically about your project!

The Exercise

In this exercise, you are a UR professional at a primarily undergraduate university with a high percentage of students from minority groups underrepresented in the sciences. You are trying to create more research opportunities for your undergraduate students by applying for an NSF REU Site grant. You have determined the objectives for your research experience, and have developed a timeline of activities for the participants to complete (included below).

Task 1

Write a project summary, no more than one page in length, that sums up the project and its objectives and activities. A successful summary will be a cohesive narrative that includes a brief version of the objectives, along with their broader impacts on undergraduate research as a whole, and why these particular activities are well-designed to achieve those objectives.

Program Characteristics

You are leading a proposal to establish an REU Site at ABC University, and plan to recruit students from X and Y institutions. All of these are minority-serving institutions with student populations that are 79.5% (ABC), 49% (X) and 84.7% (Y) from groups underrepresented in science.

The program you are planning will bring undergraduate students from X and Y to ABC University, to conduct research with faculty there. X and Y are smaller institutions and ABC is a major institution that has graduate programs in microbiology. The research experiences are aimed at inspiring the students to pursue research careers in the biological sciences and bridge dialogue and future collaborations among the three institutions.

The Specific Objectives for the program are:

Objective 1. Increase participation of underrepresented minority students in microbiology research.

Objective 2. Inspire and empower more undergraduate students to pursue advanced degrees in Biological Sciences.

Objective 3. Initiate and cement collaborations between the participating institutions.

 The activities proposed to reach these objectives (full list in Table 1) are designed to:

– Engage students in research with faculty from ABC

– Workshops on research-related skills (e.g., presenting a poster, scientific writing)

– Expose undergraduate students to a graduate school setting

– Provide opportunities for the students to present their projects at ABC’s annual undergraduate research symposium

– Increase links between the institutions by bringing one visiting faculty from X or Y to ABC each year. This person will serve as the invited speaker at the undergraduate research symposium

Table 1. Timeline of Student Activities
Week Description of activities Facilitator(s)
Arrival day 2.1. Orientation session PI, co-PI & undergraduate research staff
Week 1 2.2.  Welcome session PI, Staff, Faculty Mentors
2.3. Poster Presentations Workshop PI and Visiting Faculty
2.4. Responsible Conduct of Research Workshop
2.5. Scientific Writing Workshop
2.6. Research Notebook Workshop
2.7. Developing a Professional Path Workshop PI, Visiting Faculty and faculty/staff
2.8. Required research training (e.g. laboratory safety) PI & staff
2.9. Students begin their mentored research activities Research Mentors
Week 2 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
Week 3 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
2.10. 1st written report due PI & staff
Week 4-5 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
Week 6 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
2.10. 2nd written report due PI & staff
Week 7-9 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
Week 10 2.9. Students continue mentored research full time Research Mentors
2.10. Final written report due PI & Staff
2.11. Poster preparation Research Mentors
Final day 2.12 Undergraduate Research Symposium

– Student poster presentations at Symposium

– Visiting Faculty presentation at Symposium

– Social with researchers and students

PI and Faculty/Students from the host institution

The Deliverable

Create a project summary for an NSF REU Site using the Activities and Objectives provided below. Examples of other REU site awards with project abstracts can be found here.

Additional resources:

Skills used to perform this task:

  • Technical writing
  • Ability to distinguish important points from complex information
  • Critical thinking
  • Program development
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion

Skills needed in university careers:

  • Creativity
  • Project management
  • Verbal and written communication – especially with those in more senior positions
  • Organization and time management
  • Confidence asserting yourself as part of the team

To view detailed lists of skills in job descriptions for policy careers, please see workforce data generated by Boston University’s BEST program.

Additional tasks in Research Development:

A professional in the field of Research Development may also perform these tasks:

  • Draft Sections of a Center Grant and create templates
  • Edit a Grant Proposal
  • Coordinate Large Grant Proposal
  • Identify and communicate funding opportunities
  • Manage and define intramural funding
  • Research team building
  • Research marketing
  • Liaise with funding institutions and sponsors
  • Communicate research and research opportunities internally and externally
  • Facilitate collaborations within and between institutions
  • Develop tools and spaces to foster collaborations ie. online, symposia, workshops
  • Research a funding opportunity

Learn more about Research Development and from the National Organization of Research Development Professionals – NORDP.

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Simulation author – Kelly Albus, PhD
Simulation vetted by a REU grant PI at University of Texas El Paso