This page offers guidance for students wishing to participate in undergraduate research within ATOC and beyond. Participating in research during your undergraduate career can enhance your overall education and career outlook in many ways:
- Discover, and differentiate between, potential career pathways
- Apply materials and methods you've learned in class to current research problems
- Acquire marketable skills for future research or employment opportunities
- Build valuable relationships with faculty and other research professionals
- Discern whether graduate school is your next best step
For ATOC undergraduates interested in conducting research, a good starting point is to look for a research group or mentor to work with. The next step is to arrange compensation for your work. A student must decide whether to gain research experience on site with ATOC or with an external agency, and also whether they'd like to receive course credit or monetary funding for their efforts.
Finding a research group
Research opportunities are often found by talking to your professors or by contacting local research groups and laboratories. Researchers frequently promote opportunities to undergraduate ATOC students via email so be sure to check your inbox! Make sure to peruse the faculty profiles and their associate research sites to get an idea of what opportunities exist for you. Faculty and other research professionals are passionate about potential projects with undergraduates, yet mentoring an undergraduate research project is an appreciable commitment. As such, please consider the following when preparing for a meeting with a potential mentor so that both parties can accurately and efficiently assess the alignment of goals, interests, timing, and relevant skills:
- Make your first contact far in advance of your desired starting date
- Indicate a general area of research that you are most interested in
- List the optimal number of hours per week you'd like to dedicate to research
- State whether you are interested in working during the school year or over the summer (or both!)
- Voice whether you will apply for funding or instead will seek to earn independent study or honor's credit
- Outline your relevant coursework
- Provide your Curriculum Vitae with class year, GPA, and references on your research potential if possible.
ATOC undergraduates can gain research experience while receiving course credit by signing up for independent study hours, Honors thesis hours, or a for-credit external intership:
- ATOC 4900 (1-3 credits) - Independent Study
- Students work independently on a research topic under the guidance of a faculty member
- Repeatable for up to 6 total credit hours
- Examples of past indepedent study projects can be found here
- ATOC 4950 (1-3 credits) - Honors Thesis
- Students work independently on an original piece of research under the guidance of a faculty member
- Honors students can use this time to write their Honors thesis, or to develop their presentation for their upcoming Honors defense
- Restricted to students with 57-180 credit hours (typically 3rd year or higher)
- With very few exceptions, students must have a GPA of 3.3 or higher to work on an Honors thesis project
- ATOC 4990 (1-3 credits) - Internship
- Students gain research experience by working with an agency outside of ATOC (e.g., NOAA, Google, etc.)
- Students are assigned an ATOC faculty member to oversee the internship activities and progress
- Repeatable for up to 6 total credit hours
To enroll in either ATOC 4900, 4950, or 4990 a student must have previously located a research project and mentor. For ATOC majors, note that up to six credit hours in ATOC 4900, 4950, or 4990 can apply towards the twelve credit hour requirement for 4000-level methods courses.
A second option for ATOC undergraduates gaining research experience is to get paid for their research time in lieu of receiving course credit. The availability of paid opportunities varies semester to semester and also varies with your level of experience. While some paid opportunities are available directly through research advisors, there are many funding sources available within federal and University of Colorado programs as well:
The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, offers research stipends for undergraduates to work on research projects at numerous universities and laboratories across the United States. Most students travel for these projects to places other than their primary institution, which can often help transform and diversify their conceptions of a particular research topic. REU stipends are generous yet competitive, so be sure to get started early if you intend to apply for one.
The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), sponsored by the University of Colorado, provides funding campus-wide funding for undergraduate research projects and conference presentations.
- Assistantships, with stipends from $1000-$2000, allow students to assist a mentor on an existing or upcoming project and do not require an original student proposal
- Individual Grants, with stipends from $1500-$2000, allow students partial or complete ownership of a project and thus require an original student proposal
- The Professional & Academic Conference Endowment (PACE) offers funding for undergraduates to present, perform or exhibit their work at conferences and exhibitions
- Faculty Team Grants, with stipends up to $3,000, allow for collaborative projects using student teams (i.e., two or more students)
UROP applications for both the Summer and Fall/Spring Academic year are due in mid February (check the UROP page for the exact deadlines). Students must identify a research mentor before applying for funding.
The Summer Multicultural Access to Research Training (SMART) Scholarship at the University of Colorado Boulder offers hands-on research internships for rising juniors and seniors for a 10-week period during the summer. The program aims to improve access to STEM research for racial/ethnic groups which are underrepresented in science, math, and engineering (African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native/ Native Pacific Islander), and for first-generation college students who are economically disadvantaged. Students with disabilities are also welcome to apply.
Other Broad Funding Options
- CU Boulder Scholarships
- American Meteorological Society Scholarships and Fellowships
- NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program
- U.S. Department of Energy Scholars Program
The following posts represent groups that are actively seeking undergraduate research or professional help for an ongoing or imminent project. These posts do not represent the only research opportunities within the department at this time, so feel free to contact any ATOC faculty group to inquire about research potential.
(1) ATOC and USGS with Dr. Katja Friedrich and Dr. Sheila Murphy
Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus along the Front Range
The research conducted by a student will involve collaboration with scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and CU’s INSTAAR, who are evaluating atmospheric deposition of nutrients. Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus has been greatly increased by anthropogenic emissions and has the potential to alter ecosystems and impair water quality. In the Colorado Front Range, our current understanding of nutrient deposition is based on observations at high-elevation. At lower elevations, the rate, chemical composition, and source of atmospheric deposition are poorly defined. Thus, the USGS and INSTAAR are measuring deposition of nitrogen and phosphorus along an elevation gradient, including at the CU-operated Skywatch weather station and in the foothills and montane regions. The project seeks a student interested in evaluating the paths of weather systems that deliver nutrients from source regions to each monitoring site. This work requires evaluating differences in wind direction and speed, seasonality of precipitation, and determining the source regions of polluted air masses that are rained out during precipitation events using the NOAA HYSPLIT model. The purpose of this UROP grant is to provide financial assistance to the student who will assemble critical meteorological information to further federal and university research.
The scientific objectives are to identify differences in weather patterns both seasonally and spatially at the sites. The students would evaluate weather data from Skywatch, National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory, and Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research Program to assess precipitation, wind speed and direction, and temperature. The student would also learn how to calculate back-trajectories using HYSPLIT. In addition to benefiting the current study of nutrient deposition, the work would allow an updated assessment of weather differences along a transect from plains to alpine.
Contact Dr. Katja Friedrich for more information
(2) Skywatch Observatory Student Internship
The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado is seeking a currently enrolled student to assist with environmental instrumentation and website improvement for the Skywatch Atmospheric Observatory located on the CU Boulder campus. We seek an individual, familiar with Python, IDL, and Labview programming. Basic knowledge of data acquisition systems and environmental monitoring instrumentation is also desired. Internship activities will focus on improving observatory data quality, data access, web site functionality, instrument electronics development. This is a part-time position (15-20 hours per week) with the pay rate depending on experience level.
- Develop microcontroller based data acquisition electronics and software for environmental sensors.
- Improve web site functionality and data access.
- Create web based interactive plot routines
- Desired qualifications
- Proficiency in Labview, IDL, and Python programming
- Experience with Windows OS
- Superior communication skills
- Microcontroller hardware and software development experience
- HTML and PHP coding
- Contact Scott Kittelman for more information
Your undergraduate research may be performed outside the university at a national laboratory, local company, or other program. In this case, a research professional at your chosen program will be your primary mentor, and ATOC will only assign a faculty member to overview your assignment if your internship is unpaid and is applied for CU course credit (i.e., taken as ATOC 4990, Internship). A short list of local scientific institutes that often have research opportunities are below:
- National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
This list of relevant internship boards and specific external internships may help you find just the right opportunity