Getting Started in Research

On selecting a mentor and identifying a project:

  • Don't be afraid to approach faculty and ask them about their research; most of them love to talk about it.
  • Ask lots of questions about a professor's project in advance so that you're sure it really interests you. What is the project's purpose, what would your role be, why is it important?
  • Get lots of feedback so that you can develop a sound project. If you are proposing your own project and taking it to a professor for discussion, it helps to write a one-page brief indicating the research questions, the proposed methods, and the expected value of the research. 
  • Get all the expectations laid out before you begin. Pin down what you'll actually be doing, how many hours a week you'll need to put into project, and whether you will need to be available at certain times. 

On doing research:

  • Seek suggestions about readings you can do to gain background in the area of research you will be pursuing.
  • Ask lots of questions as you go; you'll learn more and may avoid going off in directions that are not fruitful. There's no such thing as a stupid question.
  • If you sense something is unusual, let your mentor know. Sometimes great research discoveries are made because someone noticed something odd.
  • Follow through on your commitments-a research project can be ruined if someone on the team fails to do what they were supposed to do.
  • Expect everything to take longer than you'd guess.
  • Expect surprises; research is full of them. Have fun!

GW's Institutional Review Board

GW's Institutional Review Board is responsible for the review of all research activities that involve human subjects in accordance with federal regulations. Students whose research involves human subjects in any way should start working with IRB as early on in their research process as possible. We recommend students fill out the Human Subject Research Determination Worksheet when they start applying for funding, since obtaining IRB approval can be crucial to conducting research. Learn more about how IRB approval fits into your project at the Office of Human Research.

Resources on Writing Proposals: