Undergraduate Research Scholars

College of Letters & Science


Faculty, staff and graduate students are eligible to mentor URS students. Students begin their research in the fall semester and are expected to stay with the same project through the spring as well, when they present their research at the Undergraduate Symposium.

To submit a research opportunity click here

If you are a URS Mentor please use this handbook as your reference


The core of URS is the partnership forged between student and mentor through the student’s research experience. Developing this partnership depends on how you guide the student as his/her mentor. Mentors guide students in learning many aspects of a research process including but not limited to:

  • Data gathering techniques
  • Critical reading of literature
  • Developing a thesis, question, and/or hypotheses
  • Research design
  • Presenting research results; communicating research
  • Careers in research
  • Research writing (proposals, writing for research in process, etc.)
  • Research ethics

URS course evaluations and exit interviews show students find their experience in URS a major influence in shaping their educational and career paths and helping them succeed in the crucial transition to college. Compared to their peers, URS students declare their majors earlier, finish their degrees at a higher rate, and finish with higher GPA’s even though many enter UW-Madison with comparatively lower ACT and other test scores. For these and similar reasons URS is recognized as a “high impact” educational experience. We attribute this successful impact to your involvement and commitment as a mentor.

All URS students attend a weekly 1-hour seminar. Each seminar with about 15-20 students is led by two Fellows, upper-level undergraduates with research experience who are trained and supervised by URS staff. These peer-led seminar sections comprise the “classroom” component of URS. They foster a diverse, close-knit learning community among students. Note: the seminars are mandatory, meeting every Wednesday from 5:00pm – 6:00pm each semester.

URS (listed as INTER L&S 250) is a two-semester course for first and second year undergraduates to participate in the research and creative work of faculty and staff campus wide. Students are expected to stay with their mentors throughout the academic year. Grades for INTER L&S 250 are reported through the URS Director.

URS is designed specifically for early undergraduates who have little to no background or experience, but are motivated to participate and grow through their efforts. Each year approximately 150 students take URS, participating in areas of investigation as diverse as molecular biology, physics, art history, economics, theatre, sociology, archaeology, genetics, textile art, political science, engineering, psychiatry, dance, social work and much more.

The sections are diverse by virtue of students’ research areas, intellectual interests, and background and experience. Students are exposed to each other’s research and they learn how research happens in various areas and modes of inquiry. They practice writing and presenting their research/creative work. They develop their critical thinking regarding research-relevant societal issues beyond the immediate research project. Students must complete required writing and presentation assignments including but not limited to:

  • Response papers to critically analyze their own research/creative work, that of their classmates, and research in different fields
  • Position papers to develop their thinking in regard to research- and arts-related societal issues
  • Presentations during the fall and spring to practice integrating and articulating the research, develop a presentation style, and share work across fields/projects
  • A research abstract as part of the spring semester application to the Undergraduate Symposium
  • A final research summary/report, due at the end of the spring semester

Peer leadership fosters an atmosphere of frank discussion without attempting to impress or get the right answer. Fellows lead in part by encouraging students to develop and articulate their own ideas and arguments through academic engagement (theses, types of evidence, chains of logic, etc.). Fellows also encourage students to explore curricular tracks, post-graduation options, and more.


INTERVIEW: Each student begins URS at an orientation meeting during or before the first week of class. At this orientation the student identifies 2-3 opportunities of interest from a binder containing all opportunities Faculty and Staff have submitted. (We do not make these opportunities available to students outside of URS.) Please let us know the maximum number of students you would like to contact you.

The student contacts potential research mentors, usually via email, to make interview appointments. Throughout September, please look for emails from interested students asking to set up an interview with you. Both you and the student have a choice about working together. The decision should be mutual. The interview process should be geared toward learning about interests, what the project entails, your expectations, aspects of the research process the student will be exposed to, etc.

You may have several students to interview and choose from. Please choose as early as is feasible. This will help the remaining students find other opportunities quickly and efficiently. If you have any questions in the process contact the Director or Assistant Director immediately.

Contract: Every URS student must work out the expectations and duties of the research or creative project with the mentor. Mentor and student must write these details on the URS research contract. Both you and the URS student must sign and date the contract, and the student must submit it to URS by the fifth week of the semester.

The contract helps ensure clear and up-front communication of expectations and what the student can hope to accomplish/learn (see final page). It should clearly outline:

  • a) tasks for which the student is responsible
  • b) number of hours/week the student is expected to work
  • c) aspects of a research process (see list p. 2) the student will be learning
  • d) *number of credits – 2 or 3 – appropriate for the student’s time invested

*If a student is expected to work with you 4-6 hours per week, 2 credits is appropriate. For 7-12 hours a week, 3 credits are appropriate. If you find during the semester that the student is averaging more or fewer hours than expected, please contact the URS Director and the credit load will be adjusted accordingly.

Mentoring the URS Scholar

We ask that you, or a post-doc or graduate student under your direct supervision, take an active role throughout your student’s research experience. The tasks you assign and the learning goals you set can help the student develop deeper understanding, engagement and excitement about research. It would also help to schedule regular conversations with your students about their progress during the course of the semester and year.

Presenting Research - Undergraduate Symposium

During the spring semester each URS student will present his/her research or art project in a talk, poster, or performance presentation at the campus wide Undergraduate Symposium. Mentors must approve the student’s abstract to ensure his/her acceptance to the Symposium. This abstract will be published on line and in the Symposium program. Please work with the student as he/she develops both abstract and presentation. It will likely be the student’s first formal research presentation, needing substantial guidance to be a successful and rewarding experience.