6 tips for Surviving and Thriving in an Undergraduate Research Program
Undergraduate research programs provide a great opportunity for students to conduct high-level academic research in their junior or senior year (or years 2 and 3). Undergrad research not only looks fabulous on a resume but gives students a taste of what graduate and post-graduate school will be like. Students who wish to be entrepreneurs can also learn leadership skills and independent motivation that will serve them well upon graduation.
However, research takes up a lot of time, especially for students entering their major field of study, and needs to be completed in conjunction with other academic commitments, work, and social time. Students considering an undergraduate research program should consider a few ways they can make their experience successful and enjoyable.
1. Create a long-term outline for your research project
Student researchers are encouraged to create a long-term outline for their project so they know what their commitments will be now and in the future. Undergrads should make a list of all the courses they need to take for their major as well as create a list for research requirements. Most undergrad researchers underestimate the amount of time it will take them to conduct book and field research and are encouraged to add 1.5 of the amount of time they originally thought. This way they have a safety net in case they run into trouble.
2. Do preliminary research ahead of time
Preliminary research should be done in advance of the application or during the application process. Student researchers will be expected to jump right in to their project once it’s approved. Additionally, preliminary research may lead a student in one direction or another causing them to alter their thesis or, in extreme cases, abandon their research altogether. This information is best discovered prior to lengthy applications and prior to the acceptance of grant money.
3. Consider whether or not your project will require travel or field research
Some research can be conducted entirely online or at the library, however, students who will need to do field research should take this into careful consideration. Working with the public, or with other students will take a significant amount of time and the researcher will have to be on a schedule convenient to both them and their subjects. Also, if travel is required, researchers may need to hold off on their project until the summer session, leaving them behind schedule. All of these elements should be considered prior to accepting grant money or credits.
4. Ã‚Â Consider taking a lighter load of classes during your first semester of research
Many students find that the first semester of research teaches them a lot about time management. While they are learning how to balance time and mental energy, a student may consider dropping one course from their schedule. Some universities offer a range of courses that is still considered a ‘full load’ (E.g., 12-16 units). The first term of research is often the most difficult.
5. Find out if you can produce results over the summer
Many undergraduate research opportunities offer two options: a year-long project and a summer-long project. Summer projects are a good place for students to get their feet wet and see if they have the time and mental stamina to complete a longer project in future years. Additionally, students who conduct year-round research should consider using the summer as a way to complete field research or focus on the final details of the project full-time.
6. Are you passionate about your research topic?
Undergraduate research projects look great on grad school and job applications but they should also be intellectually rewarding. Students who are considering undergrad research should already have a topic or field they are passionate about. Students who are more interested in research in general should think about joining a professor-led team that has a pre-set topic instigated by the university.
Although undergraduate research can be intellectually challenging and time consuming, it’s a great opportunity for students to learn how to manage a tough academic schedule and enjoy the freedom of independent learning early in their college career. If student researchers think about their commitments ahead of time and create a plan, they will have a better chance of success.
Robyn Scott is a private English tutor atÃ‚Â TutorNerds. She attended theÃ‚Â University of California, IrvineÃ‚Â as an undergraduate and theÃ‚Â University of SouthamptonÃ‚Â in England as a graduate student.