Getting Involved as an Undergrad

Viterbi undergraduates are encouraged to get involved in research. Benefits include practical application of classroom knowledge, work-experience and resume building, enhanced problem-solving and analytical abilities, rapport with faculty, and much more!

 Students participate in research through formal programs, student organizations, national competitions, volunteering in a lab, the Undergraduate Fabrication Lab, and their coursework (Directed Research 490 & capstone courses).

Getting Started

Starting to look for a research project can be a daunting task. Here are some tips to make the process easier!

Ask yourself the following questions before you look for a research project:
  • What kind of research is interesting to me?
  • What do I hope to gain from doing research?
  • How much time can I comfortably commit per week?
Now that you have an idea about what you want to get out of your research experience, it is time to start looking for a project!

Common Terms

You’ll probably encounter these terms when looking for research. Here’s what they mean.

NSF: National Science Foundation. An independent federal agency that promotes science and research. NSF grants fund many research opportunities for undergraduates.

PI: Principal Investigator. The lead researcher for a project.

REU: Research Experience for Undergraduates. Commonly used for summer programs with 10 or more undergrads working on research programs at a host institution.

SURF: Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Similar to an REU.

Tips for finding a research project

First, look here for the list of Viterbi faculty and labs that are currently taking undergraduate researchers:


After checking the above list:

  • Search faculty webpages to learn more about the types of research being conducted at USC and in Viterbi. Think about your interests and don’t hesitate to contact someone outside of your major.
  • After learning more about the types of research at USC, use your network! Talk with your professors, TAs, and students you already know. It is possible they know the faculty member(s) you want to work alongside and they may be able to connect you with that person.
  • Once you’ve found some projects, faculty members, or labs that you’re interested in, it’s time to contact to faculty to see if working in their lab will be a good fit.  Follow the contacting procedure given on the Undergraduate Research Matching List.
  • Remember to cast a wide net! You might contact several faculty before you find a good fit. Don’t get discouraged!

Tips for contacting faculty

  • Use the body of your email as a letter of introduction: state your name, major, interest in their project, contact information, and request to meet with the faculty member or someone they designate
  • Attach your up-to-date resume or curriculum vitae to the email; you can have your resume or curriculum vitae reviewed at the Viterbi Career Connections Office.

Your next step is to meet with the faculty member to discuss your interest in their project and if working in their lab will be a good fit for you and them. When you meet with a faculty member, prepare some questions. Read a journal or article they’ve published. You want to be interested in the faculty member’s work and get along with their team of people.

If you feel you’ve found a good fit and you are offered a position on the project, make certain to cover the following details:

  • Who will supervise you directly?
  • What exactly will you be doing? Make certain you will be contributing to the project and gaining the experience you’re looking for.
  • When should you start and where should you report to on your first day?
  • What kind of safety training will you need, if any?

Viterbi Research Programs

Merit Research Program

Each year a select group of entering freshmen are invited to work with faculty on current research projects. The Merit Research Award is a four year award that funds students to work in a lab. Students must make satisfactory academic progress toward their engineering degree and maintain a B average overall.

WiSE Research Grants

The Women in Science and Engineering Program offers two opportunities to undergraduate female science and engineering students: the WiSE Fellows and WiSE Researchers programs.

Center for Undergraduate Research for Viterbi Engineers

Grand Challenges Scholars Program

Student Design Teams

Viterbi student organizations compete in a number of different competitions regionally and nationally showcasing what they learn in the classroom. There is something for just about every major!

Visit our Student Organization page for more information about the following design teams and links to their contact information:

  • AeroDesign Team
  • ASCE Concrete Canoe
  • ASCE Steel Bridge
  • Biomedical Engineering Associated Start Up Team
  • IEEE Micromouse
  • USC Aerial Robotics
  • USC Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team
  • USC Racing
  • USC Rocket Lab
  • USC Solar Car Team

Research and Work Study

Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses.

  • Viterbi students may have their Federal Work Study applied towards their research wages.
  • Work-study funds will cover a portion (75%) of research wages.
  • Contact the faculty you are interested in working with. You may already know their name or look at ( for a list.
  • The faculty with whom you work will cover your remaining research wages (25%).
  • Contact your department undergraduate advisor once you have all this information in order to set up your research appointment.
  • You may only work up to 20 hours a week. First year students should not work more than 10 hours a week during their first semester.
  • Students should track their hours and Work Study balance.

Summer Research

Summer research affords students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a research project.

You are welcome to utilize the list below as a starting point; this list is not comprehensive. We separated each list by the approximate timeframe for application submission, however please check the website for the program you are interested in for the deadline. Some programs have early bird or priority deadlines.

In addition to the below, please check the following resources:

Applications typically due in January

California Space Grant Consortium – Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)
Center for Energy Efficient Electronic Sciences – E3S Summer Research Internship
Colorado School of Mines – Research Experience for Undergraduates in Renewable Energy
Howard Hughes Medical Institute – Janelia Undergraduate Scholars
Kitt Peak National Observatory – Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer Research Assistants
NanoJapan – International REU
Rutgers University – DIMACS/DIMATIA U.S./Czech Internation REU Program
University of Michigan – Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering
University of Minnesota – School of Physics and Astronomy REU Program
UW Madison Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) and REU

Applications typically due in February

MU Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Amgen Scholars – Undergraduate Summer Research Program in Science and Biotechnolgy
ASSIST – Summer REU on health monitoring systems
Baylor University – Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER)
California Institute of Technology – NSF-REU Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory
Coalition to Diversify Computing – Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF)
Case Western Reserve University NSF – Molecular Science and Engineering and Center for Layered Polymeric Systems (CLiPS)
Clarkson University – Environmental Sciences and Engineering Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels – C2B2 REU Program
Cornell – Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Undergraduate Summer Research Program
Georgia Tech Summer Undergraduate Research Experience
Iowa State University – Human Computer Interaction Program REU
Ohio State Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP)
Olin College Summer Experience in Education Research (SEER)
Quality Education Program (QEM) Science Policy Summer Internship
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center REU
Syracuse University – Interactive Biomaterials REU at Syracuse Biomaterials Institute
Texas A& M – Undergraduate Summer Research Grant
TRUST – Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates
UC Berkeley – Summer Undergraduate Program in Engineering Research at Berkeley (SUPERB) – Information Technology for Sustainability
UCLA – Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics Research in Industrial Projects for Students (RIPS)
UCSC – Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship in Information Technology (SURF-IT)
UCSD – Scripps Institution of Oceanography Summer Internship
University of Alabama – Fluid Mechanics with Analysis Using Computations and Experiments (Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics)
University of Houston – Multimedia Data Analytics REU
University of Maine – REU Fellowship in Sensor Science and Technology
University of Maine – Sustainable Forest Bioproducts Summer Research Fellowship
University of Pittsburgh – Summer Undergraduate Research Program
Worcester Polytechnic – Integrated Bioengineering Research REU

Applications typically due in March

Boise State University – Complexity in Algebra, Geometry, and Applications
Cornell Center for Materials Research Programs
Georgia Tech – Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Science Program (SURE)
LA-SiGMA – Interdisciplinary Research Experiences in Materials Science
Mississippi State University – Summer REU
Quality Education for Minorities – Science Education Summer Internship
Oakland University – Automotive and Energy Research and Industrial Mentorship Program  

Ohio State Summer REU Opportunity
Tennessee Technological University – REU in Manufacturing and Techno-Entrepreneurship
University of Alabama – Empirical Software Engineering (Computer Science)
University of Arizona – Research in Optics REU
University of Arkansas – Chemistry and Biochemistry REU Summer Research Program
University of Houston – Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program – Innovations in Nanotechnology
University of Maine – Forest Bioproducts Research Institute Summer REU
University of South Florida – REU in Computer Science and Engineering: Ubiquitous Sensing
University of Tennessee – CURENT REU