What is undergraduate research?
An undergraduate research project can take place within any academic discipline and is defined as an independent scholarly or creative investigation, undertaken by the student outside of the classroom and guided by the assistance of a mentor, usually a faculty member. A student's project often relates to the mentor's own research projects and interests. Many Loyola Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (LUROP) fellows consider their independent research projects to be one of the most rewarding experiences they have as undergraduates. Read some of their stories in Endeavors: (2010, 2011).
Why conduct undergraduate research?
Several studies have indicated that undergraduate research promotes student learning, career decision-making, and even retention. Surveys of Loyola undergraduate researchers reinforce these conclusions, with many reporting great gains in crucial, widely-applicable skills such as critical thinking, communication, and connecting theory to practice. Additionally, research experience is becoming increasingly important not only for getting accepted to grad school—where it is practically a prerequisite—but also for professional schools, particularly medical school. As these charts show, at the seven Illinois allopathic medical schools last year, the percentages of the incoming classes that had prior research experience were: 76%, 83%, 87%, 90%, 95%, and 96%. For these and other reasons, LUROP believes it is important to continue to provide mentored research opportunities to undergrads, and to support those students so they get the most out of their experience.
What will I learn from undergraduate research?
Beyond learning a great deal about your research topic, undergraduate researchers learn many skills, from technical research skills to broad skills of communication, critical thinking, and more. The Loyola Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (LUROP) aims to facilitate quality undergraduate research between students and mentors to promote these skills. Click here for a list of skills undergraduate researchers generally learn through mentored research. As a student, you can expect to gain the following knowledge, skills, and relationships from your experience:
- Use the research fellowship to make yourself better prepared for graduate school or a professional career.
- Enrich your intellectual growth by being able to connect what you're learning in the classroom with hands-on experience.
- Attain the discipline-specific language, skills in research methodologies, and knowledge of important scholarship needed to be a successful researcher in your field or discipline.
- Develop intellectual competencies, such as communication, problem solving, ethical decision making, critical reflection and analysis, and the ability to work independently.
- Experience a quality mentoring partnership, exemplified by a mentor who helps you in skill development, serves as a resource for helping you make contacts with other professionals in your field, writes recommendation letters, and assists you in gaining experience in publishing or presenting your work.
How do I know if research is right for me?
Not everybody enjoys research, and research is not right for everybody. But those students who enjoy research and are capable researchers often share certain qualities. Those who do enjoy it tend to like it for a range of reasons. Undergraduate researchers often enjoy project-driven work outside of class. They enjoy working with others (particularly in the sciences where research is often collaborative). They like talking with graduate students and faculty. Many are inquisitive, and enjoy seeking answers to difficult and multi-faceted questions. If this sounds like you, you should consider research.
Those students who thrive in undergraduate research also often share certain qualities. First and foremost, they are willing work hard with no guarantee of reward. Many researchers start off by volunteering for free in a lab, and even advanced undergraduate researchers may not answer all their questions or solve the problems they set out to address. Those who do well in undergraduate research are often patient, critical thinkers and problem solvers, since research often leads to problems and more questions, which require patience and diligence. While there are many other skills that good researchers possess, communication is one of the most important. If you communicate well with others, particularly faculty, that bodes well for your prospects as a researcher. You will notice "intelligence" is not in this list. Simply being smart is not enough to be a good researcher, and in fact many very intelligent people do not make particularly good researchers. The best researchers focus on what they don't know, not what they do. They like asking questions, they are humble, and they are often good listeners. If you have those skills, or if you are interested in developing them, research might be for you.
To find out more about whether research is right for you, talk to your professors, or look up current undergraduate researchers in your field and ask them about their experience. It's also a good idea to explore research before committing to it fully, which is also a good way to get experience. Attend a research conference. Attend a research workshop. Find a research-based internship through RamblerLink (search research as a keyword) or through an internship program. Take a research-oriented course. Find a STEM lab or social science lab to volunteer in. Apply for a LUROP fellowship that matches you up with a mentor, or a summer research program that does the same.
How do I get involved?
Visit the Getting Started page to learn about the many ways you can get research experience.