You don't have to be a graduate student to partake in research.
By Elisa Kronish
Are you ready to take your learning out of the classroom? Do you want to follow your own interests and work on related projects? Maybe it’s time to consider doing research. Whether your field of study is neuroscience or the social sciences, undergraduate research can be an enriching and valuable experience.
Undergraduate research can help motivate students to further pursue their area of interest. “It’s very useful to actually work on a project and know exactly what that type of research is like,” says Justin, a graduate student at Cornell University who did undergraduate research with liquid crystals. “It gave me a solid foundation and inspiration to do the master’s in engineering. It also gave me a lot of useful laboratory skills.”
For James Burkhardt, a graduate of UCLA, his undergraduate research on Latino community formation in LA got him his job as a field deputy for an LA city council. “My research experience helped me develop my writing skills and understand public policy and politics,” Burkhardt says.
“What Kind of Research Can I Do?”
Although the options are limitless, there are two common avenues:
Independent research. Many schools offer the opportunity to design and execute your own research projects, either as an independent study course or as part of a school-wide research program. To find an appropriate project, pick a subject that you’re passionate about and explore what’s been done in the past. Discuss ideas and potential projects with your professors. They can help you design a manageable project and plan how you’re going to complete it.
Assist professors and university staff. Some professors have extensive research projects that require dozens of people to assist, including undergraduates. Opportunities like this help you develop a sense of “belonging,” or “rite of passage” into your chosen discipline. Research of this nature can also provide valuable networking experiences. But don’t expect to be splitting the atom on your first project. “In some labs, it’s hard for an undergraduate to do truly independent research, but they can help and observe,” says Barbara Knowlton, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.