Undergraduate Research

Student in hardhat at an experiment site

Looking for Research?

You are in the right place!

Our department provides a variety of channels for students to get involved with real scientific research early in their careers. Through research, you will strengthen your physics background knowledge by applying it to real problems and develop crucial skills needed for careers in science and industry, such as collaboration, independent problem-solving, and communication. Though your role will vary from lab to lab, as an undergraduate, you can typically expect to assist with a variety of tasks, ranging from simulation and data analysis to operating and tuning lab equipment. While the idea of engaging in cutting-edge research as a college student may seem daunting, many research groups will organize projects specifically tailored to undergraduates, and you will often be put under the mentorship of a senior graduate student or a postdoctoral scholar who will be more than willing to assist you. Overall, participating in undergraduate research is an extremely fulfilling experience, and we highly encourage you to participate in it!

Read up on internships stories from Berkeley students on the Internship Stories@Cal website.

Student Testimonial


Photo of student Rav Kaur smiling, wearing turquois shirt.

As a freshman coming into UC Berkeley with no previous experience in research or astronomy, I joined ULAB, after learning about it in my physics class, and had my first research experience working on determining cosmic distances from gravitational waves, previously knowing nothing on the topic. The same year, I took the Python for Astronomers DeCal, and did a project on creating Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams for several star clusters. After these two introductory experiences, I felt more confident in my abilities as a researcher, and attended the physics and astronomy research fairs at the start of each semester of my sophomore year. From the fair, I emailed one of the presenters, and subsequently got my position working under Antonella Palmese and Saul Perlmutter on gravitational wave cosmology. Having started this position in the spring, I decided to apply for the Pi2 scholars summer program, and was accepted to the program to work with Antonella as my mentor, continuing the work we started in the spring. I also joined ULAB staff as a lab manager in my sophomore year, and I am now research director for the DeCal, helping other undergraduates get their first research experience like I once did. The various opportunities offered by the Physics and Astronomy departments helped expose me to all these research experiences, and allowed me to improve and grow greatly from when I arrived at Berkeley to now.

Rav Kaur, Class of ‘24

Finding Research To-do List


  1. Do background research and decide (approximately) what you want to work on. Explore the Research Opportunities Board (Pre-Semester)

  2. Go to the Undergraduate Research Fair. (first week of classes)

  3. Find a project. (first two weeks of classes)

  4. Find funding if possible, or register for research units (by the end of second week of classes in most cases)

*Note: A good strategy is to be proactive in the first two weeks of each semester. We recommend that you attend the physics research fair in the first week of each semester and to apply to positions from the fair and/or URAP positions of interest by the second week of the semester. It’s a good idea to apply to ULAB by the second week of the semester as well; this educational, student-led research program will help you grow your research skills and is a solid option, especially if you don’t obtain faculty-led research right away. Funding deadlines usually take place by the first two weeks of the semester, too. More information is below.

Preparing to be an Undergraduate Researcher


None of what is listed below is necessary to be successful in landing a research position in a faculty lab, but these will help you become a competitive candidate.

  • Do well in your coursework, especially the lab components of lower division courses such as the 5 or 7 series and Physics 77. 

  • Apply to join the Physics Directed Reading Program (PDRP). PDRP is a student-run program that strives to close the knowledge gap in undergraduate research by pairing up graduate and undergraduate students so that they can explore a specialized topic together for a semester. The purpose of PDRP is so that students feel more comfortable making the transition into research. Applications are due the beginning of each semester. Watch for emails to the students listservs about deadlines.

  • Visit the Physics Innovation Lab (under construction in Fall 2022) and gain research-adjacent experiences like Arduino/Raspberry Pi programming, soldering, CAD, 3D printing, laser cutting and basic optics. 

  • Attend the Physics Undergraduate Research Fair, held the first Thursday after the start of classes each semester. The fair is held on a virtual collaboration/meeting platform called Gather. 

  • Use the Berkeley Career Networkthrough the UC Berkeley Career Center to find an alumni mentor

Do some early research on what opportunities are available. Check out our virtual Physics Research Opportunities Board. It is updated regularly as new opportunities arise.

Landing a Research Position


  • Attend the semesterly Physics Undergraduate Research Fair to learn about physics research opportunities available each semester and to meet representatives from the various labs. Apply to positions of interest.
  • Visit the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program(URAP) website for positions posted by faculty (for course credit only)
  • Know that throughout the semester, you can contact faculty members from your research field of interest to see if they have positions available. See here for tips on how to cold email a professor. Professors don’t always respond, but you’re always welcome to inquire via email, office hours, etc. to see if any informal research opportunities are available.
  • Consider positions at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL), Space Sciences Lab (SSL), and Advanced Light Source (operated by LBL), College of Chemistry, Nuclear Engineering, and Astrophysics.
  • Links to these opportunities are found on our Research Opportunities Board.

Compensation or Course Credit


During Fall or Spring Semesters

  • BPURS offers $750 for a year-long research project when you apply jointly with a faculty member for funding The project can also be mentored by postdocs or graduate students, under the supervision of a faculty member. 

  • Consider asking to be hired through workstudy or through a stipend. Your success will depend on whether the faculty member has funds to support it. 

  • Consider asking for course credit. Students can pursue getting course credit through Physics/Astro 195 (Senior Honors Research) or Physics/Astro 99/199 (Supervised Independent Study) or by applying to the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP). Applications for course credit should be submitted to the student’s department (Physics or Astro). In Physics, major advisors Anna and Kathleen can help with the process. The major advisor will provide the student with a form that requires them to list the project and the responsibilities that they will have as part of this enrollment and based on the units requested. The student can enroll in a minimum of 1 credit and a maximum of 3 credits. The faculty research sponsor must sign and approve the form. Once that is complete, the student submits the forms to their department major advisor who will then issue the class number for them to enroll in. Physics Department student forms can be found here.

Looking for paid summer research?

  • The SURF L&S fellowship allows UC Berkeley undergraduates in the College of Letters and Science to spend the summer doing concentrated research in preparation for a senior thesis. Fellows receive $5000.

  • The Physics Innovators Initiative (Pi2) Scholars Program provides a $5500 summer stipend to work closely with dedicated graduate student and/or postdoc mentors on a project. Final projects will require a written report and a poster presentation open to the whole department at the end of the summer. The applications to be Pi2 scholars are announced in early January of each year.

  • Physics REUs provide fully funded research opportunities at other universities. Note that January and February tend to be the application deadlines for most funded summer research.
  • See the Research Opportunities Board for a more extensive list of semesterly and summer research positions and funding options.