Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Value of Undergraduate Research?

Learning to do research in a particular field of study will provide you tools to engage issues and to solve problems. Whatever the field-- the sciences, the humanities, social sciences, engineering, education, music nursing or business--when your intellect, imagination, and that fascinating field of study begin to form connections, your journey will turn off the well-traveled highways of academic life and lead you toward the lanes and by-ways that invite your discoveries. Such exploration becomes integral to some students' way of life in college. This delving into a subject becomes not just a research project for some students but a path that opens onto a world of interesting and important questions they want to pursue as a career. You may make a contribution to new knowledge as a researcher. Perhaps most importantly this exploration will enable you to learn new things about the face you see in the mirror. Finally, it is the linking of research fields to your sense of calling and purpose that is the most exciting aspect of all. Then the work you do as a researcher is not something performed only so that you can graduate, it is something you want to do because it is building a foundation for your professional life. When that happens, your research becomes integral to your identity, your " calling," or your reason for being. If you maximize your undergraduate education at Baylor, you will be prepared to line up your skills, your talents, your interests, your values, and your sense of a meaningful trajectory for your life by the end of your senior year. And you will be ready-- through the world of work or advanced degrees-- to think critically, to engage questions with energy and confidence, to contribute to new knowledge, or even make discoveries that will help us build a better world.

What Steps Should I Take to Become an Undergraduate Researcher?

If you are entering Baylor in the Fall 2014, consider signing up for a freshman seminar or for one of our "engaged learning groups" run through the freshman seminar program. For details, see www.baylor.edu/research/ursa. If you are already attending Baylor, the first thing you will want to do is learn which department and which professors are doing research that you are interested in. Here is how:
  • Think about which courses you love the most. If one of your professors is doing work that you think is fascinating, consider reading an article on the subject he or she is researching (you might find one written by your professor!) and then make an appointment to go to the professor's office to talk further about how you might become involved in that project or another project. (Don't stay too long--usually a fifteen or twenty minute exploratory meeting is ideal.)
  • If you find a subject area that is interesting but you do not know anyone teaching in that field, contact the department to ask who would be best to visit with about the research area. Then email that professor to make an appointment to explore options for how you could learn more about a particular topic or maybe become involved in research related to that field.
  • Look on the departmental websites that you are interested in. It is usually easier to locate the research being done in the sciences, but other departments have the information listed as well. For example, the Department of Anthropology, Forensic Science, and Archeology lists many of its projects at www.baylor.edu/afsa.
  • There are introductory courses in research as well as independent study courses in almost every department that encourage research. In both of these formats you may earn university credits for the research you and your mentor decide you will pursue. These are formal avenues by which to get involved in discovery and investigation in a field you find fascinating.
  • You can also contact your adviser or a dean to get help in initiating a path to the kind of research you would like to consider.

What General Path Would I Follow as an Undergraduate Researcher?

If you are registered for a course in research, you will follow the guidelines given by your professor. But many students want to do independent research. If you feel a bit insecure about initiating a research proposal, the following overview may help you calm any fears of the unknown that are involved. Thus, here are some of the steps you may follow as an independent researcher once you have secured a faculty mentor:
  • The first year you would probably be given fairly basic tasks by your mentor. Every student researcher has had to go to the library to check out the materials or create bibliographies, has had to make copies of materials, take notes in meetings, clean up lab samples, do routine checking and monitoring of samples or laboratory experiments. As a student, you may find this is a difficult phase because you have no frame of reference for doing the work you will be asked to do the first time. So the first phase may not be terribly exciting, but it still exposes you to information that is valuable and gives you basic skills you will refer to again and again in the field.
  • After you have been working for a professor for a month or two, however, you will understand the basics of how the lab works, what the best resources are, where the materials are located in cyberspace or in the library, and how to use your time efficiently. Maybe you will be invited to sit in on meetings among the researchers. Maybe the professor will give you some independent tasks to do that require both organizational skills and your thinking through how to move the research project forward. Maybe you will drive an expert to campus from the airport--or be invited to dinner with a faculty team who has asked an authority in the field to speak here.
  • By your second year in research, you may be involved in many things:
    • You may be invited to analyze some of the data yourself.
    • You may be researching and writing drafts of parts of an important study that is directed by your mentor.
    • You could be invited to attend a conference where others more advanced in your field are discussing issues that you find riveting.
    • For that, you and your mentor will apply for a small research grant from URSA in order to fund your trip to a conference.
    • Maybe you will present a poster at a conference showing your work in progress.
    • By now you will have learned where some of the great internships in this field are offered--and you may begin to plan your summers around enriching the experience you are having on campus.
Thus, you begin to build a network of colleagues within your own university and beyond. These sorts of experiences help you clarify your goals and your identity. Then, you will also acquire the skills and the learning community within which you will build the support necessary to go forward toward leadership in an area of expertise.

What Can I Contribute to the Research Project as an Undergraduate Researcher?

Faculty members at Baylor are famous for fostering student research projects. Many of them are gratified to have opportunity to work with undergraduates. Students who are beginning to do research love to discover new things, make connections across disciplines, and "live the questions." You, as an undergraduate researcher, bring excitement to the project and contribute to a culture of inquiry. We appreciate that! You will ask great questions in the research process. Sometimes those may be questions that others have asked before but now are surfacing again. The collaboration between your mentor and yourself brings a new vitality to some traditional investigations. And new possibilities spring from the conversations you have as well as the research you do. You bring an energy we do not always have. You are another viewpoint, another mind, and another background. As a young person, whose contributions come from another sphere, the interaction we have with you may enrich not only the dimensions of the project but also the potential ramifications from the study. You learn also the downside of research in this area, the dull but necessary parts that build skills and set the foundation for further investigations. And you become friends sometimes, colleagues certainly, with the professors who are also pursuing riddles and challenging assumptions in the area you care about. Some of these relationships are rich indeed and can last a lifetime.