Research Opportunities

So, you want to get involved in research? That’s great! Earth sciences faculty at the University of Oregon are world-class scientists involved in a wide range of research, and many of them encourage undergraduate students to join their group and get involved.

A research project has the potential to greatly enhance your undergraduate experience and can help students pursue a path in a chosen career or graduate school.

Undergraduate research in our program can take a number of different forms. Depending on your and your faculty supervisor’s interests, this might include:

  • One or more terms working as a research assistant in a faculty member’s lab (you can get research credits that count toward your electives requirement).
  • If you get more involved, you might be able to do a senior research project and write a senior thesis (a great way to prepare for grad school).
  • If you meet the GPA etc. requirements (see our catalog web page), and if you find a faculty mentor who agrees to advise you at this level, you could do an honors thesis and graduate with honors in Earth sciences.

Some students find there is an option to progress from one level to another and convert a lab assistant position into a senior thesis or honors thesis. This depends on getting connected with a faculty member who does research that you find interesting, and who is also willing and able to serve as a mentor for your research. We cannot guarantee that you will find such a match, but we do encourage you to think about it and pursue this option if you are interested.

How to Get Started

A good way to get involved in undergraduate research is to start by considering which courses or topics have been especially interesting in your course work so far. For example, you might have done well in a course and/or made a good connection with a faculty member who taught one of your courses.

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the faculty research in the department. Once you have identified what you would like to study, you can contact a faculty member in that field and ask if they need a lab assistant to work in their lab, or if they are accepting undergraduate students to do research or thesis projects under their supervision. If they say “yes” or “maybe,” you can ask to set up a meeting to discuss possibilities for you to get involved and see what happens.

It can seem intimidating to “cold call” a faculty member about research opportunities, but often this initiative is viewed very favorably by faculty members

Earning Credit for Research Projects

Undergraduates interested in research should contact potential faculty advisors for opportunities. Students may earn up to four credits for research that can be counted toward electives in the major.

Credit may be earned by registering for any of the following: Research (ERTH 401), Field Studies (ERTH 406), Laboratory Projects (ERTH 408), and submitting a final written report to the faculty advisor describing the results of the research. Successful completion of the research for elective credit is indicated by a passing grade in one or more of the courses listed above. Students who complete an honors thesis may not apply this option toward elective credits.

Erupting volcano in Hawaii

Observing Volcanoes in Hawaii

Morgan Nasholds, ’17

Morgan worked with Professor Leif Karlstrom to characterize feeder dikes of the Columbia River Flood Basalts. His research project interfaced him with faculty and graduate students in the department, which helped him gain a summer internship at the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, placement in a master’s degree program, and co-authorship on a peer-reviewed publication.


Senior Thesis

Students may choose to undertake a senior thesis research project under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The scope, content, and style of the thesis is determined in consultation with the advisor and typically resembles an extra-long term paper containing original data and scientific conclusions. This is similar to, but less formal than, the honors thesis and does not require a minimum GPA or a formal thesis committee.

Students may register for ERTH 401 Research units and must register for at least one credit of Geol 403 Thesis; up to four 401 and 403 credits may be counted toward electives in the major. Successful completion of the thesis is indicated by a passing grade in ERTH 403. A PDF of the final and approved thesis may be submitted to the Earth Sciences department’s undergraduate coordinator for archiving.