Approaching Research as an Undergraduate

Research. The word may conjure up images of a “lab rat” scientist in a white coat, working at odd hours of the night to gather evidence. While this may be true for some, it is certainly not how the vast majority of researchers spend their time. Research can be conducted in any discipline, whether it be the social sciences, natural sciences, technical fields, arts, or a combination of any of the above.

 

According to the latest UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics Women in Science report, approximately 28.8% of researchers worldwide are women. It is astonishing to think that less than 30% of the world’s leading research scientists are women in the 21st century. We should work harder to push the boundaries and change that, starting now.

 

Research may look daunting to undergraduates, as it may seem relevant only for Masters or PhD students. In fact, there is no better time than your undergraduate education to dabble in research, regardless of your plans for the future. Participating in such projects enhances your educational journey and prepares you for the real-life challenges in the career path you have chosen. It can help with professional networking and meeting other like-minded students.

 

Some helpful tips for a first-time researcher:

1. Make sure you can dedicate time. Before you even approach the professor, can you be sure that you will be able to balance your other responsibilities? Think of conducting research as a part-time job, as it can range anywhere from 5-15 hours a week.

2. Get to know your professor. Are you familiar with the professor you want to work with? This does not mean that you have to know them personally; however, do you know what they have worked on in the past and/or working on now? Show them that you are a serious candidate by taking the time to learn about their past endeavors.

3. Be clear about your goals. Do you want to be published in a journal? Do you want to go on conferences? Do you want to participate in a short-term or long-term project? Are you willing to do this without compensation/credits or are you only looking to work if funded by a grant?

4. Do not be discouraged if you are told no. Ask the research team for feedback on why they said no, take that advice, and ask another professor or team. Be open minded if the opportunity you end up with is not the opportunity you initially thought you would get. Things do change!

 

Remember that this is not for everyone. You may find, after your research experience, that your true calling lies somewhere else… or, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that research is, in fact, your cup of tea. Go out there and explore topics that interest you. Regardless of the outcome, you know that you have made your mark on academia. After all, you never know the power of a curious mind coupled with passion until you try it for yourself.

 

(A helpful link for getting started on your research journey at UT is: http://www.ut.edu/inquiry/)