Getting Started in Research
Is Undergraduate Research Important?
You may be wondering why you should participate in research as an undergraduate and what that means in terms of time or activities.
First, the reasons why. Learning theories support the message that research is one of the most effective means of learning. As you actively engage with a specific issue or topic you begin to construct knowledge in a manner that leads to deeper understanding. Researchers analyze data and recognize that"great mysteries" abound. Curiosity and creativity are innate characters that motivate people to explore and solve problems, and eventually add their own unique contribution. Research activities are "higher-order thinking skills". The more you engage with challenging questions, the better thinker you will become. Research often transforms the way in which you think!
In summary, research is an engaged learning activity that allows undergraduates to:
- GAIN experience in a chosen field
- PREPARE for graduate or professional school
- DEVELOP problem-solving skills
- CONTRIBUTE to the knowledge in a specific discipline
- BUILD relationships with professionals
Now, what is research? You may have an idea that all researchers focus on a cure for a disease or something very difficult, such as the discovery of a new galaxy! But research can more generally be defined as a systematic investigation of a topic. At Baylor University, there is research taking place in every school and department. The projects may look slightly different, but they all are organized around a central question that can be explored using a set of accepted methods. With a little effort, you can find out what type of research takes place in a field of your choice. Start by looking up faculty in your area of interest and explore their research publications.
A few more FAQs:
Should I get involved in Undergraduate Research?
This is a good question that each student should ask themselves. All students are capable and can benefit from working on a research project, but it does take commitment. Take time to meet with professors and learn about their expectations. Are you looking for a mentor that will let you have your own project, or do you want to work with another student or researcher on a project? Are you willing to show up regularly and collaborate with others? Think about the questions you would like to ask before meeting with the mentor. Research professors often have graduate students that are working alongside them. Graduate students are learning what it is like to be a professional in a specific field from their mentors. Many times you can learn more about a specific research group from the graduate students or experienced undergraduates.
Do I need research experience to get into medical school?
You can be accepted into an M.D. program without research experience. Medical schools require shadowing and volunteering but they do not require research. However, if you are truly interested in research the experience can improve your application. Research may take the form of bench work, field work, or clinical internships.
Students that want to apply to an M.D./Ph.D. program are judged differently by the admissions board. These students must have significant research experience before applying to any M.D./Ph.D. program.
Do I need research experience to apply to graduate school?
Students that intend to apply to graduate programs must have research experience. This is particularly true for science graduate programs. If you plan to earn a M.A., M.S. or a Ph.D., speak to your advisor about how to prepare for admissions.
Should I start research my freshman year?
This is up to you. There is nothing wrong with using your first year to get acclimated to Baylor, learn the Baylor traditions, go to the football games (tailgates are great) and make new friends. You can use this time to look up some of the research programs you are interested in joining. Visit their department website and look up the research professors within that department.
Keep in mind that to join some labs or groups you will need to finish specific classes first. For example, a biochemistry lab may prefer students that have taken the first semester of biochemistry so that would put students in their second or third year. The same thing is true for an organic chemistry research lab - the experience will be better if you know and understand organic chemistry. Investigate and make sure you ask the professor which classes they require of their undergraduate research students.
Is working in a lab the only way to get research experience?
No. Working in a lab is one way to get research experience, but not the only way. There are many wonderful professors in arts, religion, history, philosophy, journalism, and many other departments that also mentor undergraduates in research.
How can I get started?
Identifying Potential Faculty Mentors
IDENTIFY YOUR AREAS OF RESEARCH INTEREST
Research can be done in any field, and students are welcome to pursue opportunities inside or outside of their major. Take the time to explore different types of research by reading about faculty projects on department websites.
TALK TO PEOPLE IN YOUR DEPARTMENT
Professors, instructors, teaching assistants, advisors, and upperclassmen may suggest possible mentors and help inspire your research interests.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Utilize campus and internet resources, including the library and library website, to find recently published work from faculty who you are going to contact. Make sure you are familiar with their research interests and current projects before you contact them.
Contacting Potential Faculty Mentors
Email is often the best method to contact potential faculty mentors. Your email should contain the following information:
Who are you? If applicable, do you have any relevant experience or recommended coursework?
What aspects of the faculty member's research interest you? Why?
Ask the faculty member if you can make an appointment to discuss their research in detail.
Include a salutation, greeting, and an email signature.
Meeting with Potential Faculty Mentors
BEFORE YOUR MEETING
Before interviewing for a research position, make sure that you are familiar with the faculty member's research interests and have prepared a list of questions to ask your potential mentor. Consider these topics:
The faculty member's past and future projects.
Expectations for students, skills that you may need to develop, and how you can prepare to work on their project.
DURING YOUR MEETING
Business casual attire is recommended. Be prepared and professional, but remember that there is no need to stress. Faculty want to get to know you and may ask you about the following topics:
Why are you interested in their research?
What are your goals and how will conducting research help you achieve them?
What do you hope to learn?
RESEARCH FOR CREDIT
Many departments offer research courses 1V9R, 2V9R, 3V9R, and 4V9R in which you may earn credit for research. The College of Arts and Sciences offers a Certificate of Excellence in Undergraduate Research for students that have completed 4 semesters of research or 3 semesters plus one summer experience. The Office of Engaged Learning has grants available. In some cases you can be paid as a work-study student while participating in research. Contact us with your questions!