Manoa Color Seal

University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
College of Natural Sciences


Manoa Color Seal

University of Hawai'i at Mānoa - College of Natural Sciences


Are you a current Natural Science Major?

Schedule with STAR Balance
Excluding appointments with Mathematics and Physics Major advisors

While Participating

Tips for a successful undergraduate research experience

  • Balance your commitments

    Many labs require a time commitment upwards of 10 hours per week because technical training takes time. Since undergraduate research is mostly unpaid, it can be very difficult to balance time spent in the lab with academics, part-time jobs, and other commitments. Be aware of your priorities, and understand that the more (meaningful) work hours you invest in the lab, the more you will get out of it.

  • Know where your support is - and use it

    Research projects can be intimidating and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done. Other than organising your tasks and making sure you stay on top of them, be sure to utilise your support system. You’re part of a team now so get to know the lab and administrative staff members, they will be able to help you out when your mentor isn’t available. Have check-in meetings with your mentor as often as you feel is necessary, participate in lab meetings and ask questions, meet with your academic advisors if you’re having trouble balancing your course load to figure out what your options are.

  • Seek opportunities for growth

    Once you’ve been in a lab for a while, it may be time to challenge yourself. If you have an opportunity to publish with your mentor, do it. If your lab does presentations at their meetings, present as often as you can. If there are conference opportunities, ask if you can present. If you have an idea for a minor project, ask if you can lead its development. Don’t shy away from opportunities to hone a skill. Yes, it will be extra work, but the more you practice while you’re an undergrad, the better these skills will serve you in the future.

  • Accept that failure is a part of science

    Things don’t always go according to plan, especially in the process of scientific discovery where researchers are navigating uncharted territories. Failure is a part of the scientific process and each accepted null hypothesis allows us to further refine our investigative approach. Every failure brings us closer to success. In fact, having the desire to achieve a certain hypothetical outcome can lead to significant biases and errors in experimentation. Don’t get down on yourself if your findings were contradictory or inconclusive, instead, examine your methods and analyse your data for what it is presenting. There is just as much to learn from unexpected results as there is from results that support your hypothesis. As Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

  • Practice self-advocacy

    While you may feel obligated to do whatever your mentor tells you to out of appreciation for being accepted into the lab, know that you are entitled to a basic level of respect, support, and consideration. Be able to identify toxic working environments, and be vocal and honest about your professional boundaries. Your mentor cannot pressure you into spending more time on research than you can manage, nor can they expect to be prioritised over your academic obligations. Bad first experiences in a lab can sour future ambitions to pursue research. So if things feel like they aren’t working out, it is important to identify whether the source is the particular lab you’re in or if it’s research in general.

  • Integrity is important

    One absolutely needs to honor the undertakings they have agreed to. However, if you feel as though you have overextended yourself to a detrimental point, it is equally important to face those shortcomings with integrity. Talking to your mentor about these things can be difficult, but dust off those communication skills and be honest. A good mentor will acknowledge that these things happen and will work with you to find a more suitable working arrangement. You should also do your part to be aware of your limitations to prevent this situation from ever happening.


We provide academic advising services to all undergraduate students in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Hours of Operation
Sinclair Library 301
Monday - Friday
Online appointments only!