Undergraduate Jobs & Funding

How to Find Research Opportunities

VanDoren in the Lab. Photo courtesy of the Cornell Lab.Photo courtesy of the Cornell Lab.

Undergraduate research opportunities in ornithology abound at Cornell. Getting involved in research can be as simple as helping a graduate student in the field for a few hours a week, or as intense as conducting your own undergraduate honors thesis, spending long hours crunching data and conducting research in some far-away field site.

Research becomes a central part of the college experience for some students. Every year, Cornell undergraduates make new ornithological discoveries, work with researchers in dozens of labs, and author many peer-reviewed papers. Cornell students often extend their research experiences by participating in scientific conferences, taking semesters abroad, or working at field sites around the world.

The life sciences world at Cornell is vast. This institutional breadth is a great asset to Cornell students, but it can be a bit daunting to navigate as you first search for research opportunities. How do you find the right mentor? A compelling project? A fun lab group?

There is really no one-stop-shopping strategy for research opportunities. The best approach is to assess your options while seeking advice from as many people as possible. Browse the Mentors & Courses section of this website to find out who is doing what with birds all around Cornell. At the same time, talk to people you already know (fellow undergrads, your professors, faculty advisors, TAs) or to the knowledgeable and well-connected staff in the Office of Undergraduate Biology.

Keep two things in mind: first, almost everybody is initially a bit nervous about contacting potential research sponsors. Perseverance will pay off. Second, Cornell is a friendly place, and virtually all scientists love to talk to students who show an interest in what they do outside of the lecture hall.

Many research opportunities arise serendipitously. Keep an eye out for posted internships and research assistantships, but be sure to contact potential mentors directly as well. Visit relevant professors during their office hours, or contact researchers to set up a meeting time. Note that direct contact by phone or by walking into a lab is often more productive than sending an email. Most faculty get hundreds of emails each day so there is a real risk that your query will get lost.

If you are sending an email query, describe your interests and background in the message. Be as concrete as possible about why you are interested in their area of research and in working with that particular person. Describe any relevant skills or experiences that you already have, but don’t be afraid to say that you are just starting out. Be sure to ask the recipient to forward your email to their lab group and other Cornell colleagues if they aren’t in a position to take you on themselves.

Where to Look for Undergraduate Research Jobs


Beyond Cornell

A tried-and-true next step in gaining research experience is to become a student field assistant. Researchers at Cornell and beyond are always looking for field help—and in recent years, adventurous Cornell undergrads have headed off to projects across North America and in countries like Borneo, Kenya, Peru, Paraguay, and South Africa. Here’s how to find opportunities:

How to Fund Your Undergraduate Research

If you find a research opportunity at the Cornell Lab, we may be able to help fund it. You’ll need to find a mentor and a project first and then apply for financial support. The Lab does not provide scholarships to Cornell University or other financial aid, but we do provide many student employment and travel opportunities. Examples include:

Kristen Rupert and John Foote Undergraduate Research Fund

Recipients of Rupert/Foote funding engage in paid semester or summer opportunities in collaboration with a Cornell Lab of Ornithology faculty or staff member. This fund is specifically designed to promote cross-disciplinary study at the University, particularly by Cornell students whose interests and majors fall outside the traditional realms of ornithological research. Examples might include a mechanical engineering major who helps design a bird recording device, an English major who writes articles for our website, a Computer Science major who creates an algorithm for our bird ID app, or an Art major who draws images for our publications. Nominations are initiated by a Lab faculty or staff member. Students interested in this program should discuss it with their Lab-based mentor or supervisor or contact Myrah Bridwell. Nominations are considered on a rolling basis throughout the year.

Philip H. Bartels ’71 Scholars

Bartels Scholars engage in paid summer opportunities in collaboration with a Cornell Lab faculty or staff member. Although Bartels Scholars most commonly focus on research, any Lab-related activity may be appropriate. Nominations for Bartels Scholars are initiated by a Lab faculty or staff member. Students interested in this opportunity should discuss it with their Lab-based mentor or supervisor, or contact Myrah Bridwell. Nominations for the forthcoming summer should be submitted by March 31.

Ivy Field Ornithology Research Program

The Ivy Program supports immersive ornithological research and discovery by Cornell undergraduates. Ivy Program participants most often engage in rigorous field research endeavors under the mentorship of a more experienced professional ornithologist. Many Ivy students end up completing honors theses derived from their independent field research projects. Proposals for support from the Ivy Program should be developed by the student in close collaboration with their research mentor. Proposals are welcome from individual students, and from small teams of students working collaboratively. Students or mentors unfamiliar with the Ivy Program are encouraged to contact Irby Lovette or Myrah Bridwell early in their project development process.

Other Cornell Lab Funding Opportunities for Students

Through the generosity of our supporters, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology often supports undergraduate student research, semester and summer jobs, expeditions, and outreach activities. The Lab currently does not have funds to support University financial aid or similar tuition scholarships to individuals, and most of our funding opportunities are limited to current Cornell undergraduates who are in good academic standing. To initiate a conversation about these funding opportunities, students or their mentors should obtain our simple funding request form by emailing Myrah Bridwell.