Frequently Asked Questions & Advice from Prior STAR Students

FAQ & Advice from previous STAR students:

How can I find a project if I don’t know exactly what I want to do?

List a couple of areas you are interested in. Then go to the STAR website-‘Selecting a mentor’ column on the left, where you can find the mentors sorted alphabetically as well as by research topic. Once you find the mentors you are interested in working with, you might want to see the previous STAR students experience with that mentor. To do that, you can go to the ‘STAR Student Project Titles webpage and while on that page click on the ‘Project Title’ column to see their actual poster.   If you want to learn more about the details of their experience, contact previous STAR students by looking at the ‘Students for STAR’ web page. You can either communicate with them via email or meet up for a cup of coffee!

Some mentors are extremely amenable to brainstorming with you, given your various areas of interest, versus others like it more if you come to them with a plan—it really helps to start meeting various mentors early, so that you can see who you might work well with, and what project you would like to do! However, prior to meeting a potential mentor, I would always recommend some amount of preparation—they are taking valuable time to meet with you, so show them that you are interested and that you care—have some idea of why you might want to work with them (what projects they have available), and if you would want to branch off of an existing one, or brainstorming with them for potential new projects!

When is the best time to contact my mentor?

The earlier, the better! Some mentors are very popular, so it is best to contact them early before they have already taken other students. . See above—sometimes it takes a while to see who you would want to work with, and whether you would enjoy the work! I think of my STAR mentor as not just my project supervisor, but a friend-someone I can go to for life/career advice, or to just have a meal and chat.

What if the faculty I’m interested in working with is not on the mentor list?

You can actually encourage them to become a STAR mentor.  Have them look at the STAR Faculty Mentor Requirements page and if they determine these are feasible they should contact Christine Munsterman (cmmunsterman@ucdavis.edu) to submit their information for putting up on the site.  If your project is away from Davis, you can look into having a Davis based mentor, in conjunction with your on-site mentor. It is, of course, extremely helpful that they complement each other, and both have knowledge, and investment into your project, because you will need both of them to help you complete your project!

What’s the success rate of STAR application?

Approximately 70%.  However, it’s always good to have a back-up plan for your summer.  Also talk to your mentor to see whether they’d be interested to sponsor you for your project or if they might have other resources of funding other than STAR funding.  Look at the Global Health Programs for externships as well as the fellowships if you are traveling at all for your project—and keep an eye out for other grants including the Tinker, Bluhm or Morris Animal Foundation grants!

Another method to find a project throughout the semester:

Pay attention to the research and topics during the class lectures.  Our faculty members usually share information regarding their research during lectures with us.  You can greet them after the lecture and ask them politely about their research to confirm your interest and gauge whether they are interested in taking students on.  Professors are usually very excited to share their projects with you.  Once you have confirmed that is something that interests you, you can ask if they have any current project you can get involved with.   Even if they don’t have any ongoing project at the moment or they already have a tentative student, there is a good chance they will know someone else-whether it be another faculty member or a student, who they can put you in contact with.

What’s the best advice from previous applicants?

  • Never give up!  It’s usually not an overnight process, and it will take searching and planning for months prior.  It might look like you will never find a professor who is willing to work with you, month after month.  Then suddenly, you talk to the right person and everything will fall into place.  Follow up on your emails - often one will not be enough!
  • Stay opened-minded.  You never know what might happen next – the unexpected can happen during the topic searching, the professor, the project proposal, or most likely, during the summer when the project is taking place.  It’s very important to keep an open and flexible mindset that the project might turn in a different direction than you planned.  In the end, we all got a lot of good information and experience out of it.
  • Keep things simple! Usually the research will take more time than you expected. So while writing the proposal and planning the 10-week summer schedule, it’s better to keep it as simple as possible and make sure to leave a week at least at the end for data conclusion, statistical analysis if needed, paper writing, and poster making.   In this case, if there is any unforeseen delay (ex. specimen delay, reagent missing, experimental failure, which requires some repeated procedure), you will have some flexibility there.
  • Prepare before meeting with faculty.   If you are meeting up with the faculty for the first time, you might want to read about their most recent publications, understand their work, and have a set of questions ready.  This will make them more willing to work with you when they see you have taken the initiative and put in sufficient effort.
  • Do not be scared to go out on a limb! While this is a ten week project (and may take your whole precious summer) STAR is a unique opportunity that provides students a window into the field of research-whether it be in the lab, the field—whether you want to be in Davis, or abroad—and Davis has a whole host of amazing professors that you can choose from! Do not be scared to talk to an upper classman and get an idea of how they went about it - their www (what went wells) and their eby (even better yets).