Undergraduate research: How to get involved in research
Getting involved in research is one of the most important things you can do as an undergraduate student. Doing research not only enhances your learning experience in the present, but it also provides you with an introduction to the people and processes that will make up the professional world of your future, and gives you a competitive edge when you begin your career or apply for graduate study.
Although you can receive academic credit for research by signing up for "Directed Research," beginning research is much more complicated than simply filling in a box on your registration form. You will need to think about your own needs–that is, what you hope to gain from doing research; then find a research project that meets your needs; then obtain a position on that project for yourself. Following are a few tips to help you organize this process.
- Think about what you want to do. It’s possible that you may already know exactly what you want to do with your life, and if so, that’s great! You will be looking for research opportunities that directly pertain to this goal. It’s also possible that there are many things you’d like to do, and you haven’t yet made up your mind which will be your life’s work. That’s not unusual! And, it doesn’t mean you can’t do research! Think about the classes you’ve had that you particularly enjoyed, and then check out websites related to these classes or fields (for example, if you really enjoyed general chemistry, visit the chemistry webpage). Read faculty profiles and individual web pages to see what kind of research is going on.
- Contact the appropriate faculty researcher either by phone or e-mail to set up an appointment to talk about research. Find out ahead of time if there are any forms you need to fill out in order to be considered as a student researcher. Be prepared for your appointment!
- You should know something about the work of the faculty member you are meeting with.
- You should have some idea of what you hope to gain from doing research with him or her, and be able to articulate why this particular project appeals to you.
- You should be ready to provide basic information, such as your major, background courses you’ve had, any previous research experience or special skills, and your phone number or e-mail address. If you have a resume or curriculum vitae, that is ideal–bring it with you to the meeting, or send it ahead.
- Know what you are willing to give–how many hours per week do you want to devote to research? What are your available times for the current quarter? For how many quarters would you like to do research?
- Be prepared to answer questions such as: "Why do you want to do research?" ("I’m not sure," isn’t a good answer!)
- If you cannot find a research project that exactly fits your needs, there are several options:
- Be flexible. Think about the skills you hope to gain and decide whether you can achieve your goals through a different sort of project. If so, go for it!
- Ask for a referral. Find a faculty person whose research interests most closely match your own and make an appointment to talk with him or her. The faculty member may know someone who is doing the type of research you are interested in, and may be able to put you in contact with this person.
- Design an independent project. This option is for undergraduate students who already know something about research–it is generally more challenging than joining a research project in progress, but if you have the motivation, it can be done. Find a faculty mentor who has some expertise in the area you’d like to research, and talk with him or her about designing your own project. You will need a faculty mentor in order to do independent research, so talk to several people to find out if they might be available to supervise you.
- If you would like to talk about general research-related issues, please feel free to call Leslie R. Martin, Director of the Office of Sponsored Research at La Sierra University. Her phone number is (951) 785-2454.