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What is research?

Traditionally conceived, research is the process of systematic inquiry designed to further our knowledge and understanding of a subject. The University Honors Program defines research as creativity-, discovery- or inquiry-based learning. Using this definition, nearly everything students do in college is ‘research.’  They seek to discover information about people, objects, and nature; to revise the information in light of new information that comes to their attention; and to interpret their experience and communicate that interpretation to others. This is how learning proceeds both for individuals and for all human beings together as we search for knowledge and understanding of our world.

What separates a research experience from the traditional classroom?

Research is different in kind from much of the work students did in high school, and even from much of what they will do in introductory courses in college.  This is not to say that research cannot be a part of the classroom experience and, in fact, research is often a major component of upper-level courses. Generally, though, introductory classroom courses are designed to give students a basic foundation in a subject area, from which they will begin to examine the bases for current beliefs and claims in their field.  This search, when conducted systematically and employing particular disciplinary methodologies, is research because it advances knowledge and understanding in an academic discipline.  Adapted from: Hult, C. (2001). Researching and writing across the curriculum. Longman.

Perhaps for you the word brings images of microscopes, bubbling flasks, or intrepid field biologists. We encourage you to broaden your understanding of research. Think of it as any activity that leads to the formation of new knowledge: while this may involve working in laboratories, it might also involve;

You get the picture. Research is the generation of new knowledge. It is something that is done in every scholarly discipline.

Undergraduate research means that you, the undergraduate student, are involved in the generation of knowledge. You work closely with a faculty member or other experienced professional. You move beyond the mode of passively receiving knowledge in a classroom setting. You learn the methods for generating new knowledge in your chosen field.

And, just because you may be an English major doesn’t mean you can’t do undergraduate research in a biology laboratory! Participating in undergraduate research broadens your horizons and builds new career opportunities.


Why should I consider participating in undergraduate research?

How do I go about finding an undergraduate research experiences?

This is harder than it might seem. We have provided you with some web links. And we are working on a campus database of undergraduate research opportunities. But the truth is, you have to work to find an undergraduate research experience. It takes time, patience, and persistence. But remember, the experience is worth the investment of time it might take to find it! Here are some suggestions:

Some advice:

Some more things to think about . . .

Undergraduate research experiences can range from a 10-week summer program to multiple-year, year-round experiences. Sometimes a short-term volunteer experience can translate into a paying long-term experience. Sometimes a lab assistant position, washing glassware and making solutions, can lead to a full-fledged research experience.

How much time can you spend on an undergraduate research project? If you find the fall and spring semesters to be too filled with classes, consider summer-only experiences. Think about trying multiple summer experiences—in different places and even different fields.