Get Real World Experience

 

PHD-Comic-Undergrad-Research

Getting real-world experience can make all the difference!

What is science, if not pushing the boundaries of current knowledge? Scientists do this through what’s commonly called “research”. It may be theoretical research (numbers on paper or ideal computer-generated scenarios) or experimental research (hands-on tests with real-world data). If you are interested in becoming a scientist, we can’t stress enough the value of trying your hand at various types of research as soon as you can!

How do I get started in research as an undergraduate?

The simplest way to get started in research is right at your own university. Do you have a favorite professor you can talk to? Or perhaps your departmental advisor? If there are a lot of faculty in your department, look up information about the professors who conduct research in your department and see which ones do research that interests you. Contact these professors to see if they would be willing to meet and talk with you about research work. Many professors are overworked and are happy to have an eager scientist help them with some of their research tasks. When you reach out to your professors, be sure to follow suggestions included in this email etiquette presentation by Dr. Christopher Godfrey at UNC Asheville.

Sara & Kim, students at UNC - Charlotte, assess stream health

Another way to get involved in research, possibly in addition to any research you conduct at your own university, is to apply for a summer REU: Research Experience for Undergraduates. This is an NSF-sponsored scholarship program for U.S. citizens at universities all over the country in nearly every scientific discipline. Additionally, many federal laboratories and even industries offer summer research projects. 

There are several reasons to participate in an REU:

  • It’s a great way to “test the waters” of research. You can see how graduate students and senior researchers actually spend their time and try your hand at some independent research. You may love what you see or realize it isn’t for you. Granted, you can’t accomplish much research in a 2-3 month span, but it gives you an idea of the research process.
  • It can provide good exposure to a different community other than your undergraduate institution and a way to meet lots of different kinds of scientists (networking) and learn more about their work and careers. You’ll also make new friends with other REU students from across the nation.
  • It looks great on a graduate school application (should you choose this route) because:
    • You have demonstrated an eagerness to do research
    • You’ve had exposure to research tools and methodologies, which means a shorter “spin-up” time for new research assistants (RAs) in graduate school
    • It shows a real interest to your field (instead of flipping burgers all summer)