Undergraduate Research: How to Start and Why you Should

by BRIANNA LORENTZ

I will preface this article by saying that my experience has been mainly in science, but most of the information will pertain to all disciplines of study. Undergraduate research is an extremely rewarding endeavour; however, it may be intimidating at the start. Many students have no clue where to begin or even what is available to them in their program. Herein lies the purpose of this article, I hope to give advice on where to start, some personal experiences I have had, and finally the pros and cons of taking on research at the undergraduate level.

Excluding research papers for classes, the lowest stakes type of project you can do if you’re entering your second year, is to take on a pass/fail directed project. In this type of project, students may be involved in a senior student’s project or another project that the professor sees fit. This gives you a taste of research and can be a great opportunity to dip your toes in and find out if research is for you.

Students in their third year or higher can take on a full directed project (Reading or Studies) in which they oversee the development, completion, and presentation of a research project. In any level of a directed project, the first step is to talk to a professor in the field you’re interested in studying to see if they will take you on for the project. From there, you will need to do some paperwork and planning with your professor. This may also open doors to summer research positions via grants from Augustana or the U of A.

Additionally, there are courses based strictly on research such as Field Studies in Biology (AUBIO/AUENV 334) where you may take on a research project whilst learning other important skills along the way.

When looking at a topic, nearly anything is possible. For example, I have personally studied the habitat selection of muskrats and the personalities of Mongolian gerbils. Other students have tackled subjects like dendrochronology and how theatre art is produced and consumed through the lens of heteronormativity and the gender binary. The possibilities are endless, really.

Over the course of my undergraduate degree I have taken both of the aforementioned routes, I completed the field studies in biology course and three directed projects. When completing my directed studies projects, I did have to sacrifice much of my free time, including breaks and long weekends, to get everything done. That being said, I do not regret doing them as they pushed my academic abilities and have prepared me for what to expect when I begin my master’s program.

Here, I’ve compiled my list of pros and cons:

Pros

  • Great experience for Graduate studies
  • Increase your knowledge in your chosen subject area
  • Usually receive a very high grade
  • Change from the usual classroom environment
  • Learn practical skills

Cons

  • A LOT of work
  • Usually entails public speaking (which can be intimidating, but worth it!)


In short, undergraduate research projects are great experience and can be done in any discipline. However, they do require a lot of work, so you need to put all of your effort into it; if you do, research will offer many amazing opportunities to you.

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