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Doing Research In College: Tips to Start

Updated on February 27, 2013
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Undergrad Research for Upperclassmen AND Underclassmen

Many undergraduates probably don't believe that such opportunities would be available to them. I know that I didn't, but I told myself I'd find a way, and I managed to. Undergraduate research looks amazing on your CV and resume and it's okay if you're not an upperclassman yet (having junior or senior status). Even if your underclassman and want to start dipping your toes in some undergraduate research, this is an available option for you. I am a second-semester sophomore and was able to start a research project. There are some steps you have to take in order to get to this place and I will describe them in this article.

Do well in your field

Aim for a 3.0 GPA. Though there may be some leeway with this, really aim for a 3.0. If you don't have a 3.0 GPA and aren't very close to it, then professors will tell you that you should be putting your focus on improving your grades and not about research.

Look on your school site for research opportunities

My department has a link that says "research opportunities". Easy to find, and it gives me a list of opportunities that may or may not be available to me. You will have to read about each opportunity, see if you meet the requirements (if there are any), and decide if it's right for you. For instance, there was an opportunity to go to Taiwan. Though, that may be appealing to some, that was not for me. I wanted to do research on my campus or close to me.

Take an "Independent Study" or Send Emails

When it's time for you to register, look at the classes in your field and see if there's an "Independent Study". You may not be able to register for this. For instance, if it's an upper-level independent study and you're a sophomore or junior, you won't be able to register. However, you should scope out the professor who is doing the independent study (for instance, see the ratings on ratemyprofessor.com). If it is a well-liked professor, and anything you hear about this professor make it seem like they are very approachable, shoot them an email. Tell them that you're interested in doing undergraduate research, but you're an underclassman and can't get into their Independent Study. Ask them for suggestions and info on what you can do. (They may even let you do an independent study, just at a lower level)

Get close to one of the professors in your field

Go in and talk to them. Tell them you're interested in doing research, but you don't know where to go. Ask them about opportunities available to you over the summer. Perhaps tell them how you'd like to work with them. I had a professor write a grant proposal for me so I could do research with her this summer.

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Get yourself involved

If the department sees that you're getting involved (outside of class) in the field, then they might even approach YOU with opportunities. Join some clubs, ask about if there's anything "extra" going on around campus that you could get involved with. This shows your interested, dedicated and willing to do extra activities, just to get more information about your area.

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Things you should know about undergraduate research

  • You may or may not get credit for it
  • You may or may not get paid for it
  • You won't simultaneously get paid and get credit
  • Whichever one of the circumstances above that applies, it still looks good on your CV or resume
  • It's a lot of hours outside of meetings with the professor you're working with
  • It's a lot of work
  • If it's group-research, you'll get closer to your colleagues
  • You'll be expected to know about what you're researching-inside and out
  • You may be able to present your research at some prestigious meeting
  • You may not have a choice about presenting your research
  • You may get to publish a journal
  • You should do 2 different research projects in your field, not just 1
  • This will allow you to grow close to the professor you're working with, which means you'll probably have a good person to go to for a strong recommendation letter.

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