Professor Kieron Burke emphasizes the difficulty of undergraduate research, with its demands of time and effort in addition to the priority of succeeding academically. He recommends that researchers avoid being too ambitious starting out, taking on a small project that can introduce them to the research process without overwhelming them along the way. Professor Burke looks for students who can work independently and who have a strong work ethic. In return, many of his undergraduates have had the opportunity to be listed as co-authors on papers, which has helped significantly in their applications to graduate school. UROP is pleased to honor Professor Burke for his continuing commitment to undergraduate research at UC Irvine.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

I began my career in a small but wonderful chemistry department at Rutgers Camden. We had no Ph.D. program, so all our research was done with undergraduates. I learned how to do this from the other faculty, who were real experts and had years of experience.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I need my undergraduates to be very comfortable with the level of math we use. This is a standard level for physics undergraduates, but higher than that typical in a chemistry degree. Beyond that, I dont necessarily look for perfect grades, but I do need a strong work ethic and some level of independence.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

I never have as much time as I would like for any of my students, graduate or undergraduate. These days, my undergraduates work closely with a graduate student who works with them on their project, and I try to talk to them once a week. My style mostly consists of having them explain their work to me and making sarcastic remarks.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

Usually, the students contribute to a scientific paper and are co-authors. This helps them very much in their applications to graduate school. Perhaps most importantly, the exposure to the random, frustrating path of doing real research (i.e., research that will ultimately be published in a top scientific journal) and the requirement that they work to my standards allows them to judge if they want to continue to graduate school.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

Mostly, how difficult it can be, even over the course of 2-3 years as an undergraduate, to complete one substantial project, because of the time and effort required, and the competing demands of regular courses (which must always come first). But I greatly enjoy their energy and enthusiasm. It is also a wonderfully educational experience for the graduate students who work with them.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Aim for as small a project as is meaningful, and try to do that very well, understanding as much as you can. Its amazing how hard a simple research task can turn out to be. Take small steps to start. You want to set the world on fire, but Rome was not burnt in a day.

Research Interests: Quantum theory applied in chemistry, solid-state physics, and materials science; also applied math and machine learning; also nanoscience, plasma physics, and functional analysis

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '13 Jean Gehricke
Nov. '13 Sergey Nizkorodov
Oct. '13 David S. Meyer
Sep. '13 Kieron Burke
Aug. '13 Mahtab Jafari
Jul. '13 Andr van der Hoek
Jun. '13 Abraham P. Lee
May. '13 Sheryl Tsai
Apr. '13 Julia Reinhard Lupton
Mar. '13 Richard Matthew
Feb. '13 Jogeshwar Mukherjee
Jan. '13 Diane K. ODowd