Remote Student Research Experiences

Strategies for Effective Remote Research

Effective research, in any environment, requires planning, time-management, and active communication with research mentors. In a remote setting, it is even more important to establish strategies that will ensure your success through a remote research experience. This section provides tips, best practices, and resources for conducting research and is relevant for students who are beginning new projects or continuing existing projects. Remote research demands adaptation and we hope these strategies will help you to advance your research enterprise regardless of this new remote environment.

This portion of the site includes some of the basics of managing successful research in any environment, as well as identifies some of the new challenges created by a virtual experience. To that end, you will find information on adapting to new technologies, working with digital and virtual resources (archives, databases, journals, online data analysis tools), collaborating effectively with research mentors, campus resources, and peers, and keeping your work on track. You will have to adapt existing practices, change certain habits, and learn new tools in order to successfully manage your remote research experience. Each discipline will encounter unique challenges in this remote environment. Humanists will need to engage with digital resources – accessing libraries, special collections, and archives – in new ways. Social scientists will adjust how they engage in research driven by human subjects – using new modes of collecting data from interviews with other people in virtual environments. Those in the biological and physical sciences will not be able to access labs and facilities as before. All researchers will need to think carefully about how to secure their data and research materials in digital environments. But, in fact, adaption and adjustment is part of the research process and we hope some of the strategies provided here will help you to turn challenge into opportunity.

Develop a structured but flexible research plan

Design a research plan

  • In advance of starting your remote research, create a research plan in consultation with your research mentor that includes a description of the broader aims of the research, a working timeline, and benchmarks.
  • Establish parameters in partnership with your research mentor. These may include determining in advance the number of meetings you will have across your research experience and how you will connect (Zoom, MS Teams, Skype, Phone, Facetime, etc.). Include one-on-one meetings and group meetings in those parameters, as well as any formal research training you may need.
  • Devote blocks of time to your remote research, regardless of whether it is considered “full-time” or “part-time”. This will allow you to focus on the research and generally leads to greater productivity.
  • Consider developing two parallel plans: one that includes your own daily, weekly, and monthly goals, as well as a paired down plan that you can share with your research mentor to track the overall goals for the research experience. Ensure that your plan includes requisite time to understand and act on your responsibilities as a researcher (methodologies, formal training, research ethics, and so forth). Please carefully review ‘Responsible conduct of research (below) for more information on your responsibilities as a researcher.

Systematize your research

  • Establish a system of storing and sharing your research outputs across the summer. Consider UChicago Box or the MS Teams function of your UChicago Outlook account, as both are more secure than a Google Drive; invite your research mentor to exchange materials and feedback in this virtual space. Be sure to review important best practices on the storage and transfer of data; avoid sharing research findings by email, which is not secure. This is particularly important if your research involves human subjects, legally protected data of any kind, or research that your mentor has not yet published.
  • Create a tracking or cataloguing system that allows you to manage all of your research data effectively. The University Library offers many resources on accessing and managing research data. Visit the Resources page for information on how the library and its staff can support your research.
  • Work closely with your research mentor to establish short-term goals (or benchmarks) across the research, as well as the desired final output of your research experience. Research outputs will vary project to project and discipline to discipline, but you should know well in advance what these expectations are in order to advance a plan focused on achieving those research goals.

Practice effective communication

Communicating with research mentors

  • Communication is key to effective research. As a part of your remote research strategy, ensure that you have established clear communication channels with your research mentor and regular check-ins regarding your short- and long-term research goals. We recommend establishing a standing weekly or bi-weekly Zoom, Skype, MS Teams or phone meeting to help keep those channels active and effective.
  • Plan ahead for your research check-in meetings. Take time to develop a basic agenda, review the work that has been done for the purposes of reporting, and make sure that you are ready with questions, requests for additional direction, and any adjustments to your benchmarks or shared goals.
  • Use meetings with your research mentor to also work through challenges and difficulties you may be having. Research often involves failed efforts, which can lead to important changes in direction. Remember that you are also still learning what it means to do research and it is important to seek input from your mentor as you continue to develop as a researcher. These meetings are also important opportunities to discuss the workload, how you are managing your time, and whether you feel you can carry out the research as planned.

Planning for meetings, participating fully in those meetings, and remaining open to direction from your mentor are indications of respect and a seriousness of purpose. It is not your research mentor’s responsibility to keep you on track. Clear communication is key to establishing and forwarding this important academic relationship.

Communicating with other Resources

Use other campus research resources

Communicating with peers

Your peers are a valuable resource as you pursue your research remotely. Consider building research check-ins via Zoom, MS Teams, or Google Chat, with your peer group – even if they are working on different kinds of projects or are in different disciplines. Not only will this be a good opportunity to share your progress, it will also provide an important scholarly community, albeit virtual.

Responsible conduct of research (Ethics, Human Subjects, Data Security, Funding)

Your responsibilities as a researcher

  • All student researchers at the University of Chicago are expected to become familiar with their discipline’s ethical standards and to conduct their research activities with integrity and a commitment to academic excellence. Research is governed at both the institutional and federal level. You are strongly encouraged to ask questions of your research mentors about proper practices and procedures, to get safety and ethics training early on and when appropriate regardless of our current remote environment, and to follow the directions of your faculty advisors and other research staff closely.  When in doubt, ask questions and request further training.
  • All University of Chicago College students engaged in undergraduate research are held to the same standards articulated in the College Academic Integrity and Student Conduct statement.

Research ethics

Research involving human subjects (“IRB”)

  • If you are pursuing research involving human subjects – even virtually – you must determine if you are required to secure formal approval for your research through the UChicago Human Subjects Institutional Review Board process (commonly called “IRB”). You can read more about the process by visiting the University of Chicago Human Subjects Review website. Please read it carefully and note that this includes any typeof research involving human subjects – including but not limited to work undertaken for summer research experiences, a thesis, independent study, fieldwork, data collection, international research, oral histories, ethnographies, among other research practices or outputs. If you are currently working with a faculty research mentor, do not assume that if they have IRB approval, your work is automatically covered under their approval process. Before you can make your work with human subjects public in any way – publications, presentations, symposium abstracts – you need to ensure you have met any/all IRB approval expectations and should be aware of the limitations of making your work public.
  • Generally speaking, if you intend to conduct research that includes collecting data about a living individual, children or at-risk populations, including personal or sensitive data, performing ethnographies or any other work that engages in person-to-person contact regardless of whether this is undertaken remotely – via phone, Zoom, by email, etc., – or in person, you should carefully review all of the information here and, if necessary, set up an appointment with the team at your respective Institutional Review Board office (see below). They will be able to assess if your work demands full approval and guide you through the process. Be aware that this process can take up to three months for approval, sometimes longer. As a researcher, this is your responsibility. You must plan accordingly. 
  • Before you make an inquiry with the respective UChicago Human Subject Institutional Review Board, we strongly recommend undergraduate researchers review the ‘Back to Basics: Does my research fall within the scope of regulations’ webinaroffered by the federal Office of Human Research Protections Reviewing this webinar, and any other information on the HRP website does not exempt you from formal review but is a good place to learn more about human subjects research.
  • If you are student researcher in the:

Data security and management

  • It is very important that you store and manage your data safely. This involves more than simply backing up your data. It involves ensuring that you are performing and storing your information in a secure environment, particularly if it involves legally protected personal data.
  • Be aware of the risks involved in using personal computers, particularly laptops, for research and data storage. In a remote environment, you may work in a secure environment such as your own home. But, if you choose to move to a public space (e.g. a café, outdoor space, an open library in your home town), there are new risks to be mindful of, including theft.
  • The University Library provides information on data storage and management: Refer to our tools page [ADD internal link here] for IT support in safely managing and storing data.

Research funding

  • If you receive any type of funding for your remote research, you should disclose this information to your research mentor and confirm that the funding does not comprise any external research awards or grants your mentor may have. This is a best practice regardless of the source of that funding (department, College, University, or through non-academic units such as Career Advancement’s Metcalf program).
  • You are expected to abide by the policies and regulations set forth by the research grant or award program, as well as any additional funding policies established by your research mentor/their department and the University of Chicago. This includes disclosing all sources of funding you may have received for a single project; many summer research grants do not allow you to accept multiple awards for summer research. You may be prohibited from accepting multiple sources of funding and doing so will violate the terms of the research award. If in doubt, communicate with the grant-making unit.
  • Under no circumstances may you receive both funding and credit for a research experience.

Research training

  • Ask your research mentor to identify all the requisite training you should undergo in advance of your research and/or online training you could do while working remotely in anticipation of returning to campus. Training is an important practice for all researchers and vital for research integrity. In addition to the below resources, check with your home department for any online resources and trainings they may offer. The resources below are not comprehensive but offer a place to start.
  • BSD and PSD training: In a remote environment, students in the biological and physical sciences may not need to immediately undertake training Health and Safety or research involving animals. But, if you plan to return to a lab or campus-research environment during the academic year, consider participating in virtual workshops and trainings to help prepare you for a return to campus.
    • Health and Safety Training: Safe practices are essential for research laboratories to ensure that intensive scientific inquiry goes uninterrupted. Laboratory safety begins with a comprehensive assessment of risks posed by research reagents and associated lab activities as well as an assessment of compliance issues associated with research conducted within that lab. Student researchers should visit the Office of Research training page for more information on health and safety training in the laboratory sciences. 
    • Animal Subjects
      For work with animals, carefully review the explicit policies on research involving animals on the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee(IACUC) website. You should speak with your research mentors and others who work in your environment to learn about their expectations and your roles/responsibilities while participating in research with animals. You should also inquire about basic training courses, offered through IACUC.
    • Patient-Oriented and Translational Research
      Students involved in research with the UChicago Medical Center or in anything related to patient-oriented and/or translational research are strongly encouraged to review the resources provided by the Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM).  ITM invites University students to attend their free ‘Essentials of Patient-Oriented Research’ (EPR) courses offered throughout the year and summer.  All students who receive funding from or participate in National Institutes of Health (NIH) research opportunities are required to attend the full suite of EPR courses.  Students are also encouraged to attend events and participate in training and programming offered through the MacLean Center for Medical Ethics.
  • SSD Human Subjects training: Students involved in Social Science and Behavioral research that involves human-subjects and/or the collection of protected data remotely, must still consult with UChicago’s SBS IRB team regardless: and potentially secure appropriate permission to undertake human-subjects research. Before you make an inquiry with the respective UChicago Human Subject Institutional Review Board, we strongly recommend student researchers review the ‘Back to Basics: Does my research fall within the scope of regulations’ webinar offered by the federal Office of Human Research Protections Reviewing this webinar, and any other information on the HRP website does not exempt you from formal review but is a good place to learn more about human subjects research.